“… in this twittering world …”

I have for many years belonged to a fine literary group.  At present we are working our way through poems and plays of T.S. Eliot.

Last night we met and had an exceptionally fruitful meeting (and fine meal afterward!) on the first section of The Four Quartets: "Burnt Norton".

While the poet is really talking about some else, I thought this section could be applied to what I see as a rapid breakdown in our society of true interpersonal communication.  One of the corrosive influences may be the whole SMS, Facebook, Twitter phenomenon… social networking tools.

Don’t get me wrong.

I think these can be used well, effectively and in a healthy way.

But they can be dangerous.

Think about that as you read this section of "Burnt Norton" by T.S. Eliot.  It would actually be better to read all of Burnt Norton, so as to get the flow of his thought, especially the point about the still point…  but keep going…

Read it aloud:

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.


And… btw… you can follow me on Twitter.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Londiniensis says:

    It’s a pity T.S. Eliot couldn’t get that into 140 characters.

  2. Facebook – I use primarily to keep in touch with friends who live out of town.
    Twitter – I use only to make public announcements.
    Plurk – This might be a problem!

  3. Add to that…Ash Wednesday, also by Eliot:

    “Where will the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence…”

    From section V, and the stanza above the quote is my all time favorite piece of poetry.

    Perhaps it is the pause between thoughts or statements, the rhythm of breath, the voice as it rises and falls, the eyes and energy of the person that make meaning?

    I agree that the modern social media have value, and I’m on twitter and plurk and facebook, too, but really only recently for me. I have long feared that the loss of communication which takes time, presence, and reflection, and the corresponding loss of intimacy which requires civility and thoughtfulness, are destructive forces. They seem to be creating a disintegration of discourse and relationship, the end result of which is that we begin to tolerate being shoved into this vapid diffidence of snap judgments and sound bites.

  4. I believe that the disintegration of interpersonal communication began before the rise of social media. The decline began when we started believing in two things: 1) no one could pay attention to anything for more than a minute; and we adjusted our educational system accordingly and 2) manners and civility were increasingly perceived as useless by products of an unecessary age.

    Also, I’d add the belief that everyone has to be doing something at every single minute (feel free to extend this thought to Holy Mass as well!). We’ve made ourselves busy; because to NOT be busy is just about the worse thing many of us can imagine. Is it any wonder that silent prayer and meditation, as a daily practice, are not done by so many Catholics? They think it’s a waste of time better spent in “busy-ness”

    We are multitasked to the max.

    How many of us listen to books/podcasts/television/music while we do something else? We can no more justify the time commitment to delve into a work with our whole attention, than we can to learn about an individual person with the kind and considerate attention every encounter deserves.

  5. Jason says:

    A while back I was on a bus where two people were talking to friends on the phone. And it dawned on me that people today are lonely. All this need for constant communication, it seems, is about the need for friendship, though I doubt if impersonal media can really foster friendship. The answer, of course, is not to retreat to a past which we can never go back to, but to begin to restore responsibility and philosophy to how we use modern technology.

  6. Andrew, medievalist says:

    Haven’t multiple studies concluded that internet communication, especially the relative anonymity of blogs, bring out the worst in people’s natures? The comments sections of most online newspapers tend to prove this point. In fact, they contain phrases, thoughts, and words that are entirely unacceptable in polite conversation.

    The internet fosters communication, but not necessarily relationships or true (i.e. Ratzingerian) dialogue.

  7. Shzilio says:

    Was it TS Eliot who wrote, “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends; not with a bang but with a whimper.”

  8. Shzilio says:

    Yes, it was Eliot writing The Hollow Men. It’s a very interesting poem. I like one of his quotes and, in fact, I used it on a business card:

    “Most editors are failed writers, but then again so are most writers.”

  9. Peggy says:

    I have enough w/blogging, email, and cell phones–no text, no music downloads, no gaming. I am a bit of a luddite. The computer for me is a work tool and a means of obtaining news and maintaining long-distance contact. Plus, the kids are primary, not keeping up with each blogger or pundit. I like to read real books, too.


  10. Dear Fr. Z,

    I read the poem aloud and I loved it. It has quite a punchline
    at the end.

    One year after I came home to the Catholic Church, (having been a convert and left, then returned again), we plugged our computers into the internet. This is where I learned the truth and love of the faith, and learned WHERE to go to learn the truth and love of the faith. Through the internet, I was affirmed in a deeper love and appreciation for the Holy Eucharist, for St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximilian Kolbe, and making and living a Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. I learned about Catholic Familyland on the Internet and about many pro-life events. For me, the internet is an incredible tool for strengthening the intellect and the will in the truth and love of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith.
    In the span of over a decade, I have prayed with and for thousands of people and have humbly begged prayers from hundreds. I use the internet liberally as a tool for Evangelization. I have been nearly completely deaf all of my life and communicating on the internet has opened a new world for me. I am very grateful for this means of communication. All for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, all through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, all in union with St. Joseph.

    All my love in the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
    Joan Haselman – on facebook
    prolifejoan – on twitter

  11. Clayton says:

    OMG thx FRZ that so kewl. LOLZ!!!!

    In all seriousness, I shall have to hie myself to the library tomorrow to get this item of literature. Seriously.

  12. Melody says:

    I feel the ironic urge to link to this poem on twitter…

    The internet is morally neutral and can be used for great good, but in many cases it is indeed a sign of our cultural isolation.
    My theory is that we have tried to create a world without shame, and in the process have created a whole culture in which one cannot admit guilt, cannot admit wrongdoing, and cannot seek forgiveness or be forgiven. So we lie to everyone and no one knows us really. We compensate for this with half-lives in audio and text, without texture and feeling. And only on the internet can we be anonymous and truthful to ourselves, or in snaps of streaming consciousness on twitter.

    Joan: Same here, except in my case I was raised in a really bad parish with no catechesis. Whoever put the catechism up on the Vatican website and tied a search engine to it should be credited with saving at least one soul from heresy.

Comments are closed.