Twitterers Tweet Back at AlterNet
Twitter, like many technologies that have come before, is either hailed as a glorious revolution in communication or slammed as a destroyer of intelligent public discourse. When one of the more popular Twitter streams consists of Ashton Kutcher's illiterate dispatches from boozie Oscar parties, it's easy to side with the naysayers.
But in its relatively brief existence Twitter has also exploded into a political discussion forum, a venue for on-the-scene reporting, and a place for activist organizing (not to mention an opportunity for tech-challenged Republican politicians to hilariously embarrass themselves).
In a piece recently published on AlterNet, Alexander Zaitchik tears down the hype surrounding Twitter, critiquing news outlets that gush over the site in order to seem "with-it". Zaitchik argues that Twitter promotes a mindless narcissism that further corrodes our already dumbed-down public culture: "It may not be true that only morons are drawn to Twitter, but everyone on Twitter sounds like a moron."
The piece, unsurprisingly, drew a lot of criticism from AlterNet's Twitter followers. Zaitchik's take on the site also prompted tons of comments on AlterNet.
Many of the article's Twitter critics say that Zaitchik misunderstands how the site works (in under 140 characters, of course):
Winning_mark writes: "Actually shocking how shallow AlterNet scratches the Twitter surface. So very much ignored."
Bigmind reminds Zaitchik of the wise words of Marshall McLuhan: "Zaitchik needs to reread McCluhan's "The Medium is the Massage" I'd say more but I'm running out of characters!"
The idea that Zaitchik misses the point by taking individual tweets as the sum of the whole network is echoed by chutry in a longer blog post to which he links on Twitter:
As others have pointed out, articles that complain about Twitter typically focus on the content of individual tweets rather than focusing on those tweets in a specific context. It would be similar to denigrating conversation by pulling out individual pieces of dialogue rather than seeing how conversation involves a variety of practices: connecting with others, sharing ideas, linking to blog posts, participating in mini-memes, whatever.
Many AlterNet commenters also disagree with Zaitchik's critical take on the site:
Gazooks writes that Twitter is only the latest mass culture trend wrongly accused by critics of dooming civilization:
In the hierarchy of threats, this seems more than a bit overstated. The hula hoop was considered a useless, mindless, mass threat by some as is nearly everything that achieves fad status.
Is it startling that so many lives are dominated in a schoolgirl continuum of the trivial and mundane, and hasn't that always been the case?
People need connection and this seems to enable an expression of what moves them on a basic level.
Twitter is not some secular Antichrist come to steal the souls of the creative and replace them with slack-jawed moron doppelgangers communicating with grunts and moans. It's a public graffiti wall, where you can leave notes to your friends, or see what other people are up to.
Are some people taking it way too far? Yes. Does it require this kind of concentrated vitriol? Is it really a sign of the Idiocracy apocalypse, or is it just IRC done with text messages? IRC can be just as stupid, banal, and far more offensive than anything Twitter puts out, but it's still used by a lot of computer people to coordinate projects and get tech support.
Finally, if you don't like someone's idiotic tweets, WHY ARE YOU FOLLOWING THEM?
Andrianmarketing also points out that Twitter is what you make of it:
In all the screaming about who's right and who's wrong I absolutely think that a point has been missed. Yes there are a lot of people who post nothing but mindless drivel, however, Twitter is like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. I myself have learned a great deal from intelligent people who provide summaries and links to articles that they value and feel that I should value too. If I don't like what they have to say I don't have to read it. But I find at least 5 extremely well written articles every day on topics like politics, science and business. People are sharing their knowledge freely on Twitter with anyone that wants to learn.
Search your favorite topic on Twitter and if you can't find at least 100 people talking about it and linking to more information about it then you can complain, but if you don't use it don't bash it as it has absolutely nothing to do with you. People who bemoan the lack of substance in the world, look at your TV, I've seen more substance linked to on Twitter than in every major Emmy winning Situation Comedy in the last 5 years.
Jgrossnas states that despite initial reservations about Twitter, they found a useful, productive way to use the site:
I can sympathize. I thought Twitter was a silly waste at first too but if you follow good, smart people there, you can get a lot out of it. I've gotten a lot of news scoops there way before I've heard the info from anywhere else.
Twitter is an evolutionary step in social networking. It might be history in a couple years, but it is taking us somewhere on the path of global interconnectedness.
cyr3n also testifies to the site's usefulness:
I use Twitter as a quick way to scan news blogs and post important news (ie: mmorpg events, contests, in-person gatherings). No problems here. Twitter is a very useful tool and shouldn't be overlooked by anyone trying to leverage the social networking phenomenon.
But other readers disagree. Phatkhat argues that Twitter meets and encourages our childish need for connection and attention:
Having come from a time when people still had rotary dial telephones, and there were only 3 channels on TV, I have to marvel at today's technology. I love it, and I use it joyfully.
But it strikes me that this incessant "staying in touch" at all times is both "needy" and childishly insecure. Do we really have to be "connected" to others all the time? What about time for introspection? For enjoying nature? For savoring a good book on a cold rainy night?
Sushi argues that Twitter is an appropriate medium for our dumbed-down culture:
Considering how education has devolved into 'McLearning', this very well could be the new ADD communication system.
"I think not, said Descartes, and promptly disappeared. "
But Smackback pithily points to one of Twitter's greatest advantages: its populist potentional: "Twittering = the new "chattering classes". You won't find the Bilderburgs or the Rothschilds on Twitter. :-D"
If you're not a Rothschild or member of the Bilderberg group, check out AlterNet's Twitter feed.