Sat 21 Feb 2009
The sheer number of articles in mainstream press about the social networking platform “Twitter” are cause for nausea. (Twitter is a platform by which one can send out 140-character messages, known as tweets, to however many other people are following their page. Some call it “microblogging”).
I dig Twitter and I use it to share articles with friends, reflect on medicine and public health, and share thoughts / events / passions about Los Angeles and the world around me. I’ve learned a wealth of information and have been led to innovative web-based technologies regarding health, based on short communications on twitter. I follow folks on Twitter whose opinions and article-sharing I like, I receive feedback on questions I pose, and I have a healthy relationship with this kind of experimentation of newer models of information sharing and reflecting.
So back to these articles. Seriously? Aren’t there more important issues to cover in the world? Most pieces I’ve seen about Twitter proclaim it to be the Next Best Thing. It’s been placed on some grotesque pedestal, but then again, much of media is in the business of sensationalizing. But most recently the alt press site Alternet.org, a website I have much respect for and read regularly, featured a commentary on Twitter entitled, “Twitter Nation Has Arrived: How Scared Should we Be?” by Alexander Zaitchik. I didn’t expect Alternet to post a commentary like this. Not because it’s disapproving of twitter and attempts to make larger philosophical points. But because it’s so poorly written, not well fact-checked, and is FULL of spite. The seething hate emanates from the article in very non-subtle ways. And the assumptions are far-reaching and presumptuous.
In addition, his facts are not researched. For example, the author states that Twitter was based on Facebook’s status update model. Nope. Twitter was around for almost a year before Facebook started incorporating status updates into its model. One of several simple facts that the author had completely wrong.
The article makes some interesting anthropological points that I agree with (and I’m always interested in discussions about how we’re becoming post-human). He also reveals some of the silliness of Twitter (honestly I don’t always get why people share what they do, and oftentimes the TMI syndrome comes into play — Too Much Information about your personal life, I don’t care — but that’s easily remedied by not following that individual’s stream). But interspersed his otherwise interesting points are volcanoes of rage (ha! did I just say volcanoes of rage? awesome!) which dilute any point he’s trying to make. Anyway, here are some of the author’s rants that I thought i’d share:
What was once an easily avoided subculture of needy and annoying online souls is now a growing part of the social landscape, with Twittering tentacles reaching into the operations of major newspapers, networks, corporations and political campaigns.
Ah yes, that annoying subculture of needy and annoying online souls.
Twitter is growing so fast that 2009 may come to be known not as the year America swore in its first black president or nationalized the banks, but the year America learned to think and communicate in 140 characters or fewer.
Because we are *that* dumb. Of course. And obviously if we use 140-character messages on ONE social networking service, we therefore think and dream and have sex in 140 characters.
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?
Absolutely. And after that, we mime. of course.
When the Los Angeles Times ran a Twitter feed about local wildfires on its home page, it was an informational service to its readers that was distinct from and complementary to its coverage. It was not, let us hope, “the future of journalism.”
Seriously? Who proposes that twitter is the future of journalism? What’s fascinating about twitter is exactly that (above), that people can report observations or personal reflections or photos, to contribute to the many pieces that make up journalism (not take the place of many words and accomplished journalists).
But Twitter is unique (and more dangerous) because of the rolling, inherently content-less and bite-sized nature of the tweets. It reflects and feeds an autistic culture unable to focus on anything but the tiny feed box in front of it, and even that only when medicated.
Yes, the argument about the medicated autistic masses unable to focus on anything. Yep, the author had to go there. He makes it TOO easy to spot the venom and the condescension. Those two sentences alone are reason alone to not regard his article with any respect.
I posted a link to the article on my Twitter account (@losanjalis) to gauge others’ thoughts and the first response I received was priceless. @jbrotherlove said:
@losanjalis I’ve read lots of “I hate Twitter” posts, but that @AlterNet article is the worst excuse for wasting over 14,000 characters.
Yep, that pretty much sums it up.
I didn’t write this blog post to add to the noise and the thousands of characters that people write about Twitter. But I read Alternet daily and feel like its readers deserve better articles than this. And I think an analysis of Twitter deserves a more informed, less hateful piece than this. I also didn’t expect this kind of writing from a regular author on Alternet. And lastly, writing an article with these assumptions about Twitter is akin to saying that video games make children violent. Too much presumption, too much assumption, and way too much causal inference, too much importance on one tool, and neglect of the larger picture.
UPDATE — Chutry posts a better-written reaction to the Twitter Nation article, check it out. Well said.