Last night at the Institute for Political Journalism’s Board of Visitors meeting, Tim Carney and I found ourselves explaining Twitter to our colleagues. It wasn’t a defense of the practice, really. The participants are all eager to learn about new things and how the students benefit from them. But Tim and I both had to be fairly self-deprecating about it, as anyone should be, because Twitter is, in fact, a really dumb trend.
Now, to be clear: Tech crazes are, in fact, crazes. Remember when “Email Lists” first came about, and forwards to massive people? And how we STILL see people yelling at each other about whether or not something was appropriate? Have you seen someone on a Segway? Remember when it was being touted as a revolution? Then everyone started blogging on their own, offering thoughts that would make Jose Ortega y Gassett choke. When it came to family stuff, it was great going. Some people started thinking more seriously about writing that otherwise might not have. But others got silly.
The nice thing about Twitter, then, is that you can’t do many stupid things with 140 characters.
Except you can. At the moment, I have almost 1200 followers on Twitter (which makes me sound like a cult leader). The rule is that when someone follows you, you should be polite and follow them back. I’ll admit that sometimes it’s nice to hear about a mom who just got back from taking her family to soccer practice. It’s a reminder of the what real life is like. But it’s an interruption — and so many tweets are just that. It’s noise, and the more people you follow on Twitter, the more noise you get.
Which is the problem. Like blogs and email lists, there’s no common practice that encourages people to think about what they’re saying and how it impacts others. Or, heck, to figure out if what they’re saying is worth it. It’s self-indulgent to the worst degree.
As for it being a good way of disseminating information, sure. But the smaller networks, not larger networks, allow meaningful relationships to filter out useless information. You can use social programs like Twitter to meet new people, but that meeting is useless unless you develop that relationship. The rules of networking apply even on the Internet.
Which brings me to this video, which has completely discouraged me from going on my massive Twitter account for anything other than professional reasons: