Apr 27 2009

Twitter is bad

I suppose I’m involved in an internet debate with my friend Dan about the merits of twitter. (If you care about the background, see here and then Dan’s post here.)

Off the cuff, my feeling on the subject is basically twofold. 1. I think that people should be spending their time thinking (and then communicating) more deeply, and a trend towards shorter posts, epitomized by twitter’s self-imposed 140 character limit is a step in the wrong direction. And, 2. I think that bidirectional communication (hopefully with analysis) is a more effective (and fulfilling) method of being involved in someone’s life than a constant diary of what they’re doing/reading/watching/etc at the moment.

From my conversations with twitter enthusiasts, there seem to be a few salient points for why one should use twitter:

  1. People are using it to do great things
  2. It’s highly time-sensitive
  3. It’s a great community
  4. All my friends are on it
  5. And, (related to above): it’s an easy way for me to keep up with friends

People are using it to do great things: This isn’t a very inspiring reason to me, as it doesn’t speak at all to the medium of twitter. I guess there are people using it to enhance awareness about a variety of issues in minute 140 character chunks, but just because someone could demonstrate as a proof of concept that smoke signals could be used to “do good things” doesn’t mean that we should all get our firewood out, right?

Time-sensitivity: I’m not sure exactly why people think that twitter is faster than any other service which allows you to post from a cellphone (for instance, WordPress, although I never post to my blog from my phone, I certainly could if “timeliness” were important). But I guess I don’t want that to really be my main issue with this item. I’ve been thinking about this time-sensitivity as a supposed virtue of twitter at length over the last few days and I think there’s something important in the idea of slowing down. The thought of being motivated to stay connected to a constant flow (or barrage) of information that you believe you need right now seems like it might be negative in many respects. People (and the media) like to tout that guy who was arrested in Egypt and got out by virtue of people following his posts. I think it’s important to remember that, that was one guy, on one day, (I think he had like a hundred people even reading his posts), out of what? 5 million users? I argue that the majority of content on twitter is not time-sensitive, nor is the majority of actual events in our lives. Although, I’m sure this won’t resonate with everyone, I for one, am glad that my entire life is not time sensitive. I like to approach my own life with a bit of reflection; hopefully allowing the more important stuff to bubble to the top as I think about it and talk about it. Most of the details that seem “time sensitive” in the moment turn out not to be in the long run.

Great community: If you say so. It’s hard for me to really engage with this in a blog post because generally I need to know what the person means by “community”. This medium isn’t really designed for conversation or discussion, right? It’s a *post* *post* *counterpost* *repost* *post* kind of format right? that’s certainly what I see on the twitter pages I’ve looked at. If ‘community’ loosely defined here is people who post about the same things, or do the same kinds of things on their twitter page, I’m not entirely convinced that there’s merit in such a grouping. Regardless, my sense is that every social network (myspace, facebook, livejournal, youtube, etc) touts to have a great community of users, so I’m really sure what that means.

All my friends are on it: Well, I don’t doubt that, but my sense is that (as I’ve posted previously), you could be having much more enriching and meaningful friendships with them (and your other friends who aren’t on twitter) if you invested a little more in bi-directional communication, the kind with feedback where you each respond to what the other one says instead of making a series of (maybe) related public posts. I also try to communicate in regards to this point that people need to be the change they want to see in the world. I say this because some people who I’ve spoken with almost feel held hostage by their friends, like that they won’t know what’s going on with their friends unless they subscribe to their tweets (or facebook, myspace, etc), because their friends don’t really use email or the telephone anymore to express those kinds of things. I sympathize with this because I’ve certainly felt it in my own life, there’s a tremendous social pressure to join these sites so that people can add you to their friends list or so they don’t have to go through the laborious task of calling/emailing you in order for you to know what’s going on in their lives. I posit though that there really is something gained from holding out for more meaningful interactions and that it’s positive to set that as the baseline for your friends, who knows, they might also feel trapped into the cycle…

It’s an easy way for me to keep up with friends: I think that’s pretty well covered in the last point. It’s not really “keeping up” right?

So those are my thoughts on twitter, please let me know if there’s something important I’ve overlooked.