Welcome to Twitter Nation. What was once an easily avoided subculture of needy and annoying online souls is now a growing part of the social and media landscapes, with Twittering tentacles reaching into the operations of major newspapers, networks, corporations and political campaigns.
With this lede, Alexander Zaitchik launches into a welcome screed about the impact of Twitter. Readers of this blog will already know that I am very skeptical that computer-based social networking technology produces positive outcomes. In spite of claims that Twitter radiates messages that reveal how the twitterer is doing or feeling, the tweets lack any significant reflective content. Getting a picture of what one does, even over long periods, will tell you a lot about behavioral patterns, but conveys little or nothing about who the person is and what he or she cares about. Maybe one of those shrinks that claim to psychoanalyze people by watching them on TV might venture a judgement.
But isn’t a social network really about caring. Community, family, companies, baseball teams, and other relatively stable groups of people operate around common purposes, that is, what all share in taking care of. Meaningful communication is never easy, especially when the context challenges the conversants’ skills. Superposing a rule that the flow must come in bite-size chunks of less than 140 characters makes little sense. Zaitchik suggests the reasons behind the tremendous growth in twittering in spite of this apparent short-coming,
There is evolutionary logic to the building Twitter surge. The progression has been steady from blogs to RSS feeds to Facebook. But Twitter brings us within sight of an apotheosis of those aspects of American culture that have become all too familiar in recent years: look-at-me adolescent neediness, constant-contact media addiction, birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity. When 140 characters is the ascendant standard size for communication and debate, what comes next? Seventy characters? Twenty? The disappearance of words altogether, replaced by smiley-face and cranky-crab emoticons?
. . . What’s more, say Twitter’s defenders, haters like me focus on the banality and chirpiness of tweets because we are ignorant of the wonderful personal and social benefits of regular Twitter use. The company’s founders go so far as to call it the ultimate civilizational feel-good experience. “It is about the triumph of the human spirit,” Twitter CEO Biz Stone recently told New York magazine.
The article is worth reading in its entirety. The strength of Twitter’s rapidly expanding presence and popularity (The Dalai Lama has started twittering.) signals more acceptance of toys that amuse us, just another object to own, rather than evidence of some marvelous tool that can expose one’s true being. Knowing what was on someone’s radar screen yesterday can fool you into believing you understand who that person is today. Meaningful relationships are one of the foundations of sustainability.
Zaitchik writes about one of the most vocal champions of Twiitter, “Clive Thompson, who has been on self-appointed Twitter guard duty since 2007. . . .”
Thompson relays the story of the time he met a friend for lunch. Even before sitting down, he already knew from reading her Twitter feed that this friend “was nervous about last week’s big presentation, got stuck in a rare spring snowstorm, and [was] addicted to salt bagels.” . . . Thompson gushes that Twitter not only melds a group of individuals into a near “telepathic” unit of kinship, it is the ultimate Socratic app.
The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to ‘know thyself,’ or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness. Having an audience can make the self-reflection even more acute.
Again, Thompson instructs us to put up with thousands of idiotic and maddening tweets in order to “get” the full beauty and bounty of the site. Only after we burn swaths of our lives reading mindless tweets will the Twitter oracle reveal the wisdom it reserves for dedicated supplicants. Thompson doesn’t explain why having an audience makes self-reflection “even more acute,” whatever that means. Nor does he betray any concern that 140 characters might be enough space to state a tiny fact about a Liz Phair song, but not enough to reflect or meditate on it by any meaningful definition of the words.
I stubbed my toe tripping over my headset cord just now. I know I should have gone wireless. (92 characters)
Damn it, I’m out of tissues again. My nose is dripping on my keyboard. (70 characters)
My neighbor’s cat just peed on my window sill. I really don’t like them. They moved in a couple months ago. (107 characters)
I hope Anne Hathaway wins it. She’s just like a girl I once knew. My domineering mother intervened. Maybe that’s the cause of my stuttering. (140 characters)
Tweet, tweet, tweet. (20 characters)