Thursday, May 7, 2009

How I am learning to love Twitter, despite the hype

There is nothing quite as pointess, nor pointless in quite the same way, as forming an opinion about something before you have experienced it.

I am a widely experienced person, and I have earned a living my entire adult life as a journalist, reporting on my experiences and the experiences of others.

I also go through life reflexively asking people who tell me things, "What's your evidence?" or "how do you know that?", always trying to get past the crust of opinion to the kernel of experience.

And yet, I am humbled to confess, I still am capable of doing this stupid, uniqueless pointless thing: I still at times form opinions of things, and even express those opinions, without adequate experience of the subject - almost invariably, when the thing in question is trendy and comes packaged with the degree of advance hype that usually accompanies fraud.

That is the only point in my favor, that I am relying on experience when I do this - namely, the experience of finding hype wrapped around fraud, as it so often is. But still, really, it is uniquely pointless to think you have an opinion about anything, even something that is hyped, when you have not experienced this thing for yourself.

Take Twitter, for example - a subject of almost universal hype at this very moment, a moment which may last as long as twenty status updates, before the next social media platform of the moment comes along and usurps it.

See how I do that? Already I am backing into snark and condescension, even when I am trying to say that, now that I actually have experienced Twitter - for 32 of my own updates, and for six days - I see all sorts of value in it.

Unforeseen value - certainly, unforeseen by me; and largely, judging by the patter I have heard and read about Twitter, undiscovered value - or at least those who have discovered this value are not the ones talking about Twitter in the tsunami of its hype.

I have discovered that, for me - a guy who has been on media lists for half his life, and who depends upon news reports and press releases to earn a living - Twitter is an exceptionally efficient and satisfying way to follow the news, particularly before it becomes "the news" by being reported by someone else in my trade.
In fact, Twitter provides a model that is better than the traditional media model for receiving press releases and news reports. In the old world, the old way, they basically find you (the journalist) and promote you to death, quite often regardless of how many times you asked them to leave you alone.

With Twitter, you go out and pick the people you want to talk to you, and if you don't like what you are getting, or if you get more than you had bargained for, you can drop them as easily as you picked them up.

As a journalist who has asked countless publicists to always put in the subject line of the email a description of the precise subject of their email (novel idea, isn't it?), I learned to love, right away, Twitter's brevity. No prefacing every damn notice with boilerplate - PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - you got 140 characters to make your pitch. Make it good. Make it matter.

I also love the egalitarian nature of it all. I have had the experience of being a media darling; I have written features for The New York Times, reviewed books for The Washington Post, edited a travel section of a magazine with the enormous reach of 1.1 million readers. I know what it's like to get the A-list treatment from media sources - and it can make the job much easier.

But that isn't really who I am or how I roll, in my essence. I am basically a self-taught journalist who fell into the trade as an accident and found, as a working musician, it was a way to pay the bills - an infinitely more reliable way to pay the bills than playing music was!

As such, I have always believed that journalism, like poetry or bread, is for everyone. Twitter recognizes this fact, or at least enables it along with every other kind of use of information.

I have signed up for Twitter alerts (not sure I can get all the way over to using that weird little "tweets") from ... looking at my lastest updates, here ... The American Journal of Nursing, Yale University Press, Pew Research Center, U.S. Sen. Caire McCaskill, the F.B.I. ... and though in fact I do edit an impactful newspaper and do contribute to any number of other impactful publications, most of these people sending me information on Twitter don't know that or don't care.

I could be a gay teen in North Dakota who knows there is a bigger world out there somewhere and wants to listen into it, or a homeless woman using a computer at the public library, or what I actually am, a mid-career journalist for an impactful publication who has interviewed Barack Obama and gotten some good people noticed and some bad people fired. The information is there and it is freely available, for all of us. I like that. I love it.

It's funny, because I know so many print journalists of a certain age (I am 42) who continue to resist Twitter, as I resisted Twitter, and who have no idea that, if used in a certain way, it does nothing but make their job easier. It also gives us a lot more competition, sure, but that citizen journalist horse has left the barn and it ain't coming back.

Let's face it. There is no information priesthood anymore, no more robed monks dispensing the news to the masses in a language they can't access for themselves. Now the news, like the world itself, is an open book, available in all languages, to all people, at all times. It's piling up in my Twitter account right now, and I can't wait to go back and see what I've been missing.


Want to see how far I have come on this subject? Then read my opinion about Twitter before I had any experience of it, Chris is comparing Twitter to a faded old Polaroid, in which I reduce this polyvalent information system to only one of its uses, the self-absorbed status update. At least I am glad I thought to add this caveat:
I won't rule out Twitter, though. I got over my aversion to cell phones, email, MySpace and FaceBook, so I wouldn't put anything past me.

Yes indeedy.


Image adapted from iJustine.

1 comment:

AVD said...

There are many benefits of twitter that are not being hyped - and I assume of other hyped and trendy things - which some people quietly or loudly embraced before the aforementioned hype, and will probably continue to embrace after. Or not.

I'm frustrated by the idea that things fit into some 1-to-1 relationship or its inverse when it comes to hype, popularity, or adoption. That it must be dumb followers:love everything trendy::smart individualists:shun trends seems like a sad oversimplification that discourages independent thinking at least as much as the blinders it supposes to criticize.