I just spent a week on twitter, and let me tell you I was not happy about it. I’ve been standing smugly by for the last five years as all of my friends and peers have been going the way of the twit. To me, twitter represented everything bad about social networking: we had reached the point where we were just shouting random thoughts – not even thoughts, pieces of thoughts – into the void in order to validate our existence in some superficial way. Supernews hit the nail on the head with this great satire on the twittersphere. Now, after being coerced into spending a week on the site, I’m ready to accept twitter – but I’m still not sure it’s that useful.
My experience as a twit was completely as an observer – I’m neither clever, concise or brave enough to tweet anything worth reading – so I built up a list of about 30 news organization, authors and politicians to follow. And, after being bombarded with a constant stream of news stories for a couple of days, I quickly realized how much news is out there. This was probably the most useful thing twitter taught me – that I will never be able to know everything that is going on in the world, even if I’m only hearing 140 characters of every story. That is a fairly depressing realization for a journalist.
Not quite as depressing, however, as the next thing twitter taught me: that is, that most people don’t have a whole lot of interesting things to say. Along with CBC and Aljeezera, I also followed some of the authors and celebrities that I most respect. And after reading there tweets for a couple of days I was horrified to see that almost all of them had nothing interesting to say. I think the second I read John Green’s third tweet about how cute pandas were I knew I could never really embrace twitdom.
No, twitter isn’t completely populated by the inane thoughts of internet wannabees, but it is pretty close. The time I spent there lifted the veil of profundity and impressiveness that had previously shrouded many of the people I look up to, and that is something that I did not want. I don’t want to witness in real time a petty squabble between Naomi Klein and some economist about book jackets, I want to think of her diligently researching her next expose.
I am convinced that the “real time” aspect of twitter is more of a curse than a benefit. Petty squabbles being broadcast to the entire world, as well as sketchy news reports and premature speculation can happen so much more easily through this medium. The instantaneous nature of twitter amplifies and distorts insignificant details by forcing us to immediately react to thing, rather than take the time to really think about it.
So I suppose the most useful thing I actually learned from twitter was how important it is to take a step back from whatever situation I am in and consider what is really going on before I comment on it. And, of course, that pandas are really cute.