Wednesday, December 09, 2009

In defense of Twitter

This article writes out the well-known reasons why you shouldn't broadcast your life online, well-known to anyone under 50 with more than a room temperature IQ. Nothing in that article caught my attention, except for when Timson writes about "a look-at-me society in which people no longer think twice before tweeting about the panini they had for lunch". Gregg Easterbrook wrote that Facebook and Twitter receive an inordinate amount of attention from journalists because they're easy to understand for middle-aged writers.

Whenever someone sits down to write down a zeitgeist piece, usually some well-meaning older fellow overwhelmed by technology who wants to write about "just how crazy it all is", with something about the "craziness" of Christmas shopping thrown in for good measure, they'll make reference to Twitter. A subway ad here for a college show a picture of a girl and says something like "the future will be written by her (or at least Tweeted)". About five years ago, CNN discovered the Internet along with the rest of the mainstream news media, and blogging was how overwhelmed writers pejoratively described technology they didn't understand. Then Facebook and YouTube played those roles, and now it's Twitter.

There's a difference between not liking something for a variety of reasons, justified or otherwise, and fundamentally not understanding how something works. Most of my friends fall into the former camp, and, sadly, a lot of older people fall into the latter camp. I was in the former camp a few months ago when I started using Squeaker and Woofer, but then I had to concede that I liked Twitter.

Depending on your interests, you can go to Twitter and see concise but fairly on-topic and reasonably interesting conversations about that topic. In my case, it's discussions about football, as well as good prices for flights from Toronto, K-pop stars and elite runners. For other topics that you don't normally follow but are, for some reason, interested in at a particular moment, you can search to find real-time results. So, if you're watching a football game and want to know what people are thinking, you can search for that. If you're a hypochondriac or work in healthcare and therefore care about H1N1, you can find a few dozen Tweets from the last three minutes on that topic.

By comparison, my Facebook feed right now is showing me that one person joined a six degrees of separation group, another shared a link from Perez Hilton, and others are sharing asinine inside jokes and talking about the weather. As Facebook moves more and more away from being able to connect you with strangers by removing networks, Twitter is better able to fill in the gap created by the intellectual shortcomings of your friends list. Granted, Facebook has more users that play Farmville than France has people or Twitter has users, but that really says more about Facebook than it does about Twitter.

Admittedly, Twitter works better as a news source than it does as a conversation. I don't like adding genuine human beings because even if they spend a little bit of time being human, you're treated to links to grainy, cell phone pictures of bright lights and some guy's rimmed glasses. It's also not entirely obvious how to use the website, accounting for a lot of middle-aged misunderstandings, but the more passionate your interests, the more you'll enjoy Twitter.

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