Like a bird on a wire

28 02 2009

Tweet tweet, warble warble, titter twit. . .

Twit.

Yeah, that’s one question I have about Twitter: Does it turn us into twits?

I get it: You can pass along bits of information quickly and efficiently to large numbers of people. This can be useful, as in letting underage party goers know that the cops are coming—and even politically useful, as in letting activists know that the cops are coming. So I’m not anti-Twitter.

But I am skeptical. I awoke to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday and a conversation between Scott Simon, Daniel Schorr, and some guy named Adam (?). As I was still in the process of rousing myself, I missed some of it (I’ll go back and listen to whole thing tomorrow), but I did get to hear Schorr’s main reservation about Twittering, namely, editing. Editing matters, he noted, not just in cleaning up the language, but in attempting to get the story right. Ain’t much editing happening among the Twits.

Now, one kind of reasonable response to this is to say that while any one Twit may not edit, a kind of ‘mass editing’ can occur, to wit: multiple witnesses to or participants in a particular event may offer alternate versions of the event, either at the same time or after the original Tweet. Yes, there’s the telephone game problem (information is distorted as it’s passed along), but, again, multiple tweets could obviate any distortion. On balance, then, I think conscientious Twits can add to good information about an event.

My concern is somewhat different: What happens to thinking? Twittering sends out small packets of data all at once about a breaking event; where is the reflection about that event? Where is the context, the history, the stories beneath the story? One gets information; does one get understanding?

I’ve already written about the distinction I make between blogging and writing—that I consider blogging draft-ier and less careful than writing—and it seems that there’s another set of distinctions to be made. Twittering, in the main, seems even draftier than blogging, information  on-the-fly (or wing?). Again, this isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t supplant other forms of communication.  Do Twits tweet and move on? In other words, what happens to the event after the event?

Some bloggers crow about the death of so-called dead-tree journalism, but it takes a hell of a lot of resources to be able to cover a story deeply and well. And as a blogger, I freely admit my parasitism on journalism: I need the much-maligned MSM to tell me about the world. But I don’t rely just on newspapers and radio; I regularly turn to magazines and books to drill into a story or phenomenon. Perhaps Twitter could be considered as the opening link to the already-existing chain of information. It’s a clue, a data bit, a passing word which leads to further exploration, to a news story, to multiple news stories, to books.

Do I carry the analogy further? From tweet to a few bars to a whole composition, repeatedly performed?

No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway. I don’t tweet, just as I don’t text. (Texting just seems a private form of twittering; given that I think that any use of Twitter is in the social information transfer, texting seems, mm, useless. I’ll save the justification for that judgement for later—or never.) A coupla’ months ago my friend S. gave me information on Twitter, and it all seemed so exhausting.

It still seems exhausting. But perhaps I’ll go back and look at the info again.

Reflection, leading to reconsideration. Look what Twitter hath wrought!


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2 responses

28 02 2009
lucretia

You do begin to sound like some old curmudgeon. “This telephone gadget! It’s just not nearly as good as going and talking to a person!” 😉

Maybe the problem is, trying to make Twitter be what Twitter is not meant to be.

I’m not sure what it’s meant to be, aside from a means for me to get amusing observations from @stephenfry. I view it as an enormous Facebook status update list. It’s a hard-to-follow textual conversation between people from all over the world. It’s as interesting and relevant, or not, as the people you’re following. It ain’t journalism, and if it’s trying to be, that’s news to me.

Does good journalism have to be printed to be good journalism?

Great title, btw.

1 03 2009
absurdbeats

I am a crank. A curmudgeon? Hmmmm.

As I mentioned last night at the bar, I was initially very anti-Twitter. As I thought about it, however, I (re)considered that it could perform a social purpose. That it likely largely ALSO serves little purpose doesn’t detract from what good it could do.

And no, I don’t think Twittering is journalism, and I think you’re right, I don’t think advocates make that claim on its behalf. I was reacting more to the faddishness of Twitter, that the newness makes it better from what came before. It’s new, and it has its uses, but old techs and ways also have their uses.

Ah, I think this is why I resist the curmudgeon (and conservative) label: While it is true that I don’t think new is always better (the progressive notion of history), I don’t think it’s always worse, either. I am a skeptic, that’s all.

Should I go off on so-called post-modernism, here? Discuss mutating power structures and how emergent narratives reveal some relations of coercion even as they conceal others? That we are never absolutely liberated, but only entangled in different configurations of discipline and authority—and that in those reconfigurations we are seduced into believing that we have been liberated?

I didn’t think so. But I will re-state that my objection to Facebook is less the tech itself—which I have not engaged—than the pressure to join. I don’t want what it offers, which seems to me less a matter of luddism than discretion.

I guess I do have some sympathy for the old conservatism’s cry for the necessity of judgment. Yes: Let’s not lose our minds over the new—just as we shouldn’t let it be trapped by the old.

Skepticism. I haz it.

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