Twitter, a Bastion of Un-Rugged American Non-Individualism

“But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

Frederick Henry after his wife’s death in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

Although I enjoy Twitter as a medium through which I can follow intelligent journalists and receive breaking news faster than I can on cable news networks, it teems with self-pitying grandstanders, which I find off-putting. Desperate for sympathy in numbers, these popularity seekers bombard feeds with truncated accounts of their personal travails, as if a casual scroller clicking a heart or typing a phrase of consolation is meaningful in any significant way. 

Here’s a sample of o-woe-is-me tweets culled in the last two days:

My only child has a fever and chills. She is driving home alone, from a testing site. I am dying inside.

Talked at my dad earlier today, hoping he could hear me. Got the call tonight. My dad died from Covid. In a nursing home. Alone.

My dad got home from MON-GENERAL at 1:30 p.m. He died at around 1:55 Does anyone care?

It’s my birthday. I’m home alone. No one cares. 

No, as it turns out, lots of people care, given that these cri de couers rack up thousands of responses from sympathetic followers (their laments limited, however, to 280 characters), and I myself also care in the very limited way in that I’m sorry when anyone suffers, and certainly there’s more than enough of that going around on a planet where approximately 150,000 humans die on a typical day and many more than that on a day during a worldwide pandemic.[1]

On the other hand, it’s also depressing for me to note that the rugged individualism and stoicism that once defined the American character is as dead as Davy Crockett.[2]

Look, no one is a stranger to heartache. I was holding the hand of my wife of forty years when she died on Mother’s Day, of 2017,  but the last thing I can imagine doing is logging on to Twitter seeking sympathy before her corpse had been buried or cremated or come to think of it, even after that.

It was, of course, very moving to receive so many handwritten expressions of sympathy from our relatives and friends, and I also would have appreciated unsolicited sympathy from a total stranger who might have written, “I read your wife’s obituary in the paper, and she seemed like a wonderful person. I’m sorry for your loss.”  However, it would have been very less meaningful if I had solicited sympathy by posting on Facebook, “My darling Judy is dead. Does anybody care? How about flooding my mailbox with sympathy cards?”

Sorry about this hard-hearted, cynical grousing, but my spiritual advisor, Mencken Bierce Twain, thought it would be a good idea to get it off my chest. 

Anyway, here’s to a happier 2021 when I hope fewer folks will have occasion to post about the trauma of COVID.

[1] Not to mention the death of pets, debilitating diseases, house fires, hurricanes, homelessness . . . 

[2] As exemplified by self-pitier-in-chief President Donald Trump, who is about as stoic as Blanche DuBois.

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