March 14th, 2012

In defense of Twitter





Twitter doesn’t need any help from me.

The social media giant is doing pretty well on its own. Last October, the number of active Twitter users reached 100 million, half of whom were logging in every day and sending more than 250 million tweets daily.

And yet, Twitter has its detractors. On March 5, speaking at Tulane University in New Orleans, meganovelist Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and, more recently, Freedom, took aim:

“It’s a free country … (but) Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose … It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’ … It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers. These are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

It was a (somewhat pedantic) version of a refrain commonly heard from the anti-Twitter set. Their rhetoric usually goes something like this, “I don’t care what toothpaste you use!” Or, “I don’t care that you had Oreos for dinner last night!”

The idea being that Twitter is where people spew the mundane details of their daily minutiae. And don’t get me wrong – Twitter is where people spew the mundane details of their daily minutiae. The fallacy is the belief that this is all there is to Twitter. If you can’t find anything of value among those 250 million daily tweets, you’re doing it wrong.

Twitter is a communication vehicle, a means of transmitting information among people. Here are a few other means of transmitting information among people: letters, emails, books, radios, televisions, and voices. Surely you’ve been stuck talking to a boring person at a party. After making your escape, you surely didn’t denounce all human conversation. You probably just moved on to someone with more interesting things to say.

The analogy, of course, is if you’re following people that fill your Twitter page with drivel, follow more interesting people. I’m a Saints fan. I follow a lot of Saints players and reporters who cover the Saints. Their tweets often have value to me because they alert me to team news I may not have learned otherwise. I also follow a bunch of comedians. Their tweets are often hilarious, which I value a great deal. For example, @juliussharpe recently tweeted this, “The first guy to stop wearing a top hat everywhere deserves more credit.” Ha!

I’m not even getting into the very important uses of social media. One need only look to the Arab Spring protests, empowered by Twitter and Facebook, for an example of the positive effect social media can have. But that’s a topic for another day. For me, Twitter’s value is in its small daily gifts. I’ll check in once or twice a day, when I have a spare minute, and more often than not I’ll get a small gift – a chuckle, maybe, a bit of news, an insight, or a link to some more substantial piece of content that I’ll save for later. It’s not Moby Dick, Mr. Franzen, but it’s not good for nothing.