No, Twitter won’t destroy civilization

My Twitter home page. Look for me @copiousnotes.

My Twitter home page. Look for me @copiousnotes.

The video service Hulu, we are told in its advertising campaign, is “an evil plot to destroy the world.”

That might be — he says, having been sucked into hours of watching ­reruns of Saturday Night Live and WKRP in Cincinnati.

But to listen to some people, you’d think Twitter was the one pulling the planet apart, 140 characters at a time.

David Letterman was at least ­honest in his dressing-down of ­Twitter on his April 24 show: “When you don’t ­understand anything, and you’re ­frightened by things, then you make fun of it, you ridicule it, and that’s what I’m doing. I have no idea what it is, but I’ll tell you this: I don’t like it.”

Funny — and funnier if you saw Dave deliver it in his cranky-old-man fashion.

It’s more annoying when you hear clueless comments. For instance, on NPR’s Weekend Edition on April 26, This I Believe co-producer Jay ­Allison compared his series of essays about faith to several Internet upstarts: “I think that separates it from Twitter and blogging and Facebook. It’s not a chronicle of what’s happening in that moment. It’s something that’s gathered over the course of an entire life.”

Yes, but neither I nor ­anyone else I know of has ever equated jotting a quick note with writing a memoir.

Lumping Twitter with an essay, or even ­blogging and Facebook, shows a ­fundamental lack of ­understanding of what ­Twitter is — and of the ­curiosity to find out.

(By the way, NPR has a Twitter account, churning out headlines on a regular basis.)

It’s not that hard to learn what Twitter is. As Internet applications go, it is one of the easiest out there.

Essentially, you have 140 characters in a “tweet,” or a message, that you post for friends, family and followers to read. Posts can be pure text, or they can include references to other Web sites and pages or other tweeters.

In Twitter, you build up networks and communities by following people and letting them follow you. The people you follow show up on your home page with their latest tweets. So essentially, you’re learning all sorts of things about other people’s lives and interests.

People use Twitter for a variety of purposes.

There are ­complementary applications, including ­Twitpic for photos, and Tweetwhatyoueat for people who want to keep track of their diets through Twitter.

But the use that probably strikes most outsiders as the most vacuous is simply ­updating one’s status with life’s boring details: “Just got out of bed, making ­coffee,” or “Having lunch; ham ­sandwich.”

Most of the 335 people I follow on Twitter aren’t that detailed or mundane in the information they share, thank goodness. (Watch: Now I’m going to get a bunch of tweets like “eating a cookie.”)

They tend to share more relevant information. For ­instance, last weekend, ­Twitter had a steady stream of tweets out of the Kentucky Derby from places as official as the National ­Thoroughbred Racing ­Association and Churchill Downs, as well as regular folks tweeting their ­experiences, their Derby picks and other stuff.

Some of the information was ­disposable, some was interesting and useful.

Last week, as developer Dudley Webb and ­Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray got into a dust-up about the CentrePointe development in Urban County ­Council ­chambers, a group of ­tweeters shared real-time commentary and information.

News has broken on ­Twitter numerous times. When a horse died April 25 at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, I learned of it on Twitter from someone who was there. During the ice storm earlier this year, Twitter was an essential tool in keeping up with what was going on around the city.

I use my Twitter account (@copiousnotes) to update regional and national arts and entertainment news with what are essentially headlines or links to stories. Other Herald-Leader bloggers — including sports columnist John Clay (@jclayiv) and mommy blogger Heather Chapman (@mother_tongue) — use their Twitter accounts for similar purposes.

Are tweets deep thoughts, lifetime statements? No, and I don’t think anyone who uses the service thinks they are.

Twitter is not a forum for extended, thoughtful writing, and it’s not meant to be — though it can lead you to some fairly meaningful stuff.

And Twitter is most certainly not going to destroy the world, but Hulu … I don’t know about those guys.

Must. Watch. SNL.

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6 Responses to No, Twitter won’t destroy civilization

  1. Alison says:

    One of the most amazing facets of Twitter for me is the community-building. I’ve met so many people (yes, in real life! in Lexington!) in the past 4-5 months because of Twitter.

    Tuesday’s council meeting and the tweets about it were a tipping point. I’m at a loss for words here; sorry, I’m kind of sleep-deprived right now. But something major happened Tuesday.

  2. pogue says:

    Rich, no it may not be the destruction of civilization, but I don’t see it as any great contribution to civilization either. I’m not quite sure why we need to know the intimate details of everyone’s minute-to-minute existence and I’m not sure that acquiring information is the same thing as acquiring knowledge. Shouldn’t it be the quality of the info we’re receiving rather than the amount we can accumulate? Trying to stay wired to everything in life means you just gonna miss a lot of life…prime example: How focused on the President’s address to Congress could congressmen be when they kept twittering all the way through it? Not only wasn’t it very productive, it was just plain rude.

  3. Rich Copley says:

    Chuck, I hate to say it, but I think by saying, “I’m not quite sure why we need to know the intimate details of everyone’s minute-to-minute existence,” you fall into that trap of reacting to what Twitter is purported to be as opposed to what it actually is. Like I said in the column, Twitter is a great application for sharing important and valuable information and, as Alison expressed in her comment, community building. It is rarely the final statement, but often a road sign or an introductory handshake. I don’t know that it has use for everyone. Twitter reportedly has an only 60-percent retention rate, meaning 40 percent of people who try it don’t find it valuable enough to keep up with. But many have found value far exceeding the 140 characters of a tweet, and they shouldn’t be randomly discounted as self-absorbed slackers. ~ Rich

  4. pogue says:

    Rich, I don’t think I discounted twitterers as self-absorbed slackers (though some may be), but I’m just wondering why I need to have real-time accounts of every second of the Derby or the Center Pointe fracas at the Urban County Council meetings. Surely, the salient, crucial points of both events will be reported in due course. Everyone now does what newspeople used to have to do…stand by the news wire machine as it clacks off the latest updates. Personally, I don’t need to be that connected. I’d like a little filter…I don’t have the time and inclination to read and edit everything and decide what’s retainable. I’d rather have guys like you report the important stuff. I’m also suspect of the “community building” aspect. I think there is only so much intimacy and real relationship connection that can be achieved through all this electronic, digital media. I think your drop-off statistic is significant. Occasionally surveying people’s facebook and myspace pages, I find a similarity. People haven’t updated or put on any new information in weeks, months, sometimes years. I think there is an attention-deficeit/boredom factor in all this and people move onto the next thing or don’t pay attention to what is important at the time, because…like my congressmen example above…they’re too busy transmitting to be receiving . I personally don’t think you can do both effectively at the same time. I’d rather be experiencing the moment than texting 40 of my most “intimate” friends about it.

  5. Claudia says:

    Thank you all for your comments.

    I see that Twitter is a tool that has value for specific purposes.
    Martha Steward said she used it to broadcast where she was having a public signing of her books and it was helpful to people interested in knowing about this event.

    With the hyperabundance if information available to us today, this tool is a filter to let us selectively know and receive information that is useful to us.

    I believe this tool, if used as a filter would in fact allow you to not be as busy sorting through information and reduce “techno stress”

    “Technology is great when it works” quotation can be applied to this tool, when it works for your purposes…

    Claudia
    Adjunct Professor for Computer Literacy – 22 years
    “teaching people to know technology”
    PS – I search for this article in digital format to use in next fall’s courses.

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