Evan Kessler Dot Com

The Home of the Brave

Tweeting Our Lives Away: Twitter and The Inevitable Loss of Perspective

Posted by evankessler on March 19, 2009


To be or not to be, that is almost certainly not the question.  The current inquiry du jour is “What are you doing right now?”  That question is almost constantly being answered by 4 to 5 million Twitter users.  Mind you, those people aren’t being interrogated by their family, friends, or even their local police force; but a text box at the top of a website.

So why then are those people then providing the most personal  and often mundane details of their daily existence, ranging from current whereabouts to the least possibly descriptive rehashing of an event that occurred during the span of the past twenty-four hours.  One can’t say for sure, maybe they’re lonely.  Maybe technology has driven people so far apart and we no longer know how to communicate, but we somehow think that the only way we can be close to each other yet again is through the use of technology.  Or maybe there is no explanation, maybe people just want people to think they are the most important people in the world, no matter what it is they are up to or no matter what their opinion is.

Sure, this last sentence sounds as though I’ve described most blogging to a T, but the difference here is that blogging and most forms of writing allow for perspective and context.  Sure there are blogs that are done via mobile means and thus wield their sword of immediacy, but the ones with a valuable perspective usually take more than 140 words to do so.

Tweeting -as the use of the popular micro-blogging site is called-offers very little if any perspective.  Most journalism and conversation aims to answer the crucial questions of who, what, where, why, and how.  Tweeting often eschews valuable dimensions of communication with just the who and the what painting character sketches with very little depth and personality in favor of only action. Blogging is Die Hard to Twitter’s, well, pick a Michael Bay movie.


Sure by following a Tweet Stream we might be given enough hints to piece together a story, but that also causes us to insert our own bias and knowledge, like a detective when piecing together a crime scene no matter how little evidence there is (and often times there is very little), that’s what twitter leaves us to do with a personality or story, something that is clued into much quicker via a lengthy conversation or by reading something of greater volume. For instance…here’s a tweet I received today:

“Holy fucking creepy girl on the bus today… Meant to tweet this earlier. Wow. Creepy scary.”

Well, where’s the story?  The person has no room to expound on it and if I am not in proximity to said person, or if I don’t even really know who this person is, why has the person chosen to share it with me if they cannot tell me the story?  Why not just save the story without the tweet for later.  If there was someone creepy on the bus, it’s most certainly worth remembering and telling your friends, but this form does little in the way of context. We know this person was on the bus and there was a creepy girl.  Why was she weird and creepy? What did she do?  We then are free to make up our own story without any facts with no accent on truth.

I constantly get tweets from panels. People love to tweet while witnessing live speakers.  They’ll quote marketing experts saying things like ‘“Define relevant attributes, model for an almost infinite amount of variations of those attributes, not a finite set of profiles,” which means absolutely nothing to me out of context.  People may say great things, but those great things usually have a great context.  For instance, we all know when FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” at his inaugural address in 1933, when the nation was in the midst of financial crisis, much like today and those words carried great weight as part of a rousing speech.  What if they weren’t part of that speech? What if FDR was responding to an ill-looking Meatloaf cooked by Eleanor?  It certainly wouldn’t have been the famous or meaningful quote it is today.

I even know a young entrepeneur who was invited to the White House who while at the White House felt the need to twitter that he would only Twitter if  it were “respectable to the speaker” .  When is it ever more respectable to fiddle with an electronic device than to listen to someone who is speaking?  Especially, when you’re at the White House; you should be enjoying the visceral experience of being at the White House.  Ask that person what their memories of being at the White House would be and they’d probably say, “didn’t you read my tweets?” Your memories of the White House should not be “Well, I was listening to the President or whomever speak, and that’s when I tweeted you that I was listening to the President speak.” There are reasons we have memories and it’s not because we make a live call while we’re having a memory, it’s because they are worth remembering.

Twitter may be the most effective form of getting out information as it comes, allowing you to be right there with the person or event, but you are not there. Therein lies the problem with media’s reliance on this abbreviated form of communication.  Encouraging the public to latch onto this form of news tracking leads a serious void in the context department.  Sure we can read that Congress passed a stimulus bill or a bomb went off in Baghdad, but who did it and by what margin and what effects have they had or will they have. Saying things as they are happening gives us precious little perspective.  We’ve had no time to drink in what we’ve done, we only know that we’ve done it and so does everyone else.  Extra…Extra read all about it, I’m walking down the street.  Extra…extra…I’m in Congress listening to the President’s speech, nevermind what he’s saying…I’m there.

If Twitter continues its torrid growth pace we risk losing our ability to communicate our important stories as a nation of storytellers and dialogue creators in favor of headlines that number less than 140 characters. If history is reduced to just headlines to tell our story, how could we ever know which ones were the most important as there would be endless streams of the mundane to sift through?  How could we ensure that horrible moments didn’t repeat themselves if we didn’t have any details, just streams of live tweets that were inevitably be wiped out when a huge bomb hit wherever the Twitter mainframe sits?

One thing’s for certain without use of this new technology in moderation all of this endless tweeting is sure to turn us into a bunch of first class twits.

For a less than serious take on this issue…you might want to check out this additional post.

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