The Lie of of a Meritocracy
Facebook Dispatches from Gen Y

Twitter Hating

I've tried to love Twitter. I really have. Everyone's Twittering and I keep thinking I'm missing out on something.  I just can't do it, though.

 I understand that some people get a lot out of it, but I find it distracting and often trivial. My husband frequently emails me to tell me what he had for lunch (yesterday it was French toast). Twitter seems like a perfect medium for him.

There's a lot of crap to wade through to get to the gems. Yes, I've found some good links and pithy quotes, but for every great resource or idea I have to wade through 20 messages about people's need for coffee, how beautiful the weather is in someone's hometown,  or some event I missed.

I know there's this whole idea of the "ambient awareness" that I can develop by letting these tweets flow over me, but that just doesn't happen. Twitter doesn't feel like gentle background noise to me. It's more like a loud cocktail party where hundreds of people are having their own conversations (often about themselves) and I'm forced to pay attention to all of them. At once.

I also struggle with what to tweet.  In the name of ambient awareness, should I talk about the construction going on next door?  (I did). But then I just feel like I'm blathering into the void--who really CARES about the banging hammers interfering with my concentration? And if I only tweet business-like things like "read this great article," am I just boring?   Twitter seems to provoke in me the social insecurities I'd hoped to leave behind in high school. At 45, I have plenty of other things to worry about.

Finally, on a more philosophical and serious note, I have this sneaking suspicion that people reducing their thoughts to 140 characters on a regular basis is less "zen" and more an invitation to excessive simplification in a complex world. It doesn't seem like a good idea. Already I feel we're losing our ability to engage in sustained, complicated thought. When we're breaking things down into 140 character bites, we're further diluting our capacity for the kind of thoughtful communication that seems particularly critical in a world of credit default swaps. I can't help but think that this Twitter culture somehow contributed to us not paying attention long enough to figure things out. 

The Anti-Twitter Collection

Twitter was OK when it was this uber-geeky sideshow, confined to Twitterati and their followers. But now tweeting is going mainstream and I'm getting concerned. Seriously. They're even thinking of teaching Twitter to elementary school students--the very people who should be EXPANDING their vocabularies and developing their ability for complex thought, not learning how to say something in 140 characters or less!

And honestly, Twitter is all I seem to hear about anymore.  I'm tired of reading about Twitter everywhere, especially all these link love Twitter-glorifying posts that are proliferating beyond all reason.

So consider this the anti-Twitter collection for those of us who are "twaters," or Twitter haters, as Alexander Zaitchik calls us in our first selection below. (Let me add that Twitter love is so strong right now, I actually had a hard time finding this stuff!)

So here goes:

There is evolutionary logic to the building Twitter surge. The progression has been steady from blogs to RSS feeds to Facebook. But Twitter brings us within sight of an apotheosis of those aspects of American culture that have become all too familiar in recent years: look-at-me adolescent neediness, constant-contact media addiction, birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity. When 140 characters is the ascendant standard size for communication and debate, what comes next? Seventy characters? Twenty? The disappearance of words altogether, replaced by smiley-face and cranky-crab emoticons?
  • Twitter, Communication and My Intermittent Inner Luddite--Yves Smith draws a disturbing comparison to Newspeak and George Orwell's 1984 that makes Twitter seem less  like a harmless aid to narcissm and more like a nefarious plot--which it may well be. Note that this also supports my idea that Twitter culture keeps us from being able to engage in the sustained discussions necessary for the complex issues we face.  (Side Question-In Twitter speak, would you be considered  a "Twuddite" instead of a Luddite?)
  • Twitter Hater--Apparently as far back as 2007, the thrill of Twittering was getting on people's nerves. Kevin Dugan says it isn't Twitter so much as "the effusive glee that’s annoying me as blog post upon blog post fills my RSS reader with accounts of grown men being reduced to giddy/clubby school children." (These continue unabated in 2009I might add.)
  • Why Twitter Sucks--Captain Oblivious hates Twitter too, although many of his objections seem to be more technical than social.
  • I Hate Twitter--It's not just an age thing. Twitter hater Grayson Davis is "twenty-something."


Twitter Hating Videos




Apparently Hitler is on Twitter, which is another reason to avoid it:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Twitter Frenzy
comedycentral.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor


This video actually does a great job of capturing the Twitter experience for me--the dramatic music making it sound like everything's urgent and then you have the constantly shifting tweets ranging from links to other posts to "my clanging bracelet is annoying my co-workers."


Before you say anything. . .
Yes, I'm still on Twitter, but haven't posted an update in weeks and only log on now to see what my 21 year-old is tweeting.

Also, I know that many of my complaints will be attributed to "user error"--as in the tool is only as good as how you use it. So if I'm getting a lot of trivial tweets, it's because of my "follow' strategy. Maybe. Even so, I don't want to put in any more effort than I have to to make something work for me.

Finally--don't take my Twitter hate personally. If you love Twitter, more power to you. There are plenty of people I like and respect who swear by it. And I'll continue to recommend it to people as something to try out. I may even stop in to eavesdrop once in awhile.  It's just that I felt we needed a little balance with all this Twitter love going on. And I needed more than 140 characters to do it.

Comments

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Michelle,

Good post with some excellent videos! I was laughing out loud in my office (and drawing funny looks).

You make a number of valid points regarding Twitter and how it is not quite working for you. It took me a while to find the value in it as well and to optimize it.

In particular, two things helped me enjoy it more and to filter out a bit of the overwhelming cocktail conversation.

1. I downloaded Tweetdeck for free (www.tweetdeck.com) to better organize the Twitter stream that was coming through. Tweetdeck allows me to set up specific streams in columns so that the cocktail party becomes a more narrowly focused table in a bar. The conversations are more focused.

2. Tweetdeck allowed me to search on terms like #elearning and #AG09 and to follow the stream of posts surrounding a more focused topics. Interestingly, I found in my experience that when people use these hash tags, they are less likely to update you about the French Toast and more likely to talk about project, problems, new technologies, conferences, blogs, etc.

While there is still a cocktail conversation going on out there, I am off in a corner with people talking about ideas in which we are all interested.

Thanks again for posting this wonderful conversation starter about the pros and cons of this tool!

Michelle:
Admittedly, I'm known for being a Twitter evangelist. That said, there was a time in 2006 and early 2007 when I just couldn't get it. I thought it would be as annoying as IM. Instead, I've filled my life with new friends in my community (Twitter leading to real-life meetups), I've found clients, and my part-time gig writing for bub.blicio.us also came through Twitter. It greatly enriches conferences and events for me. It has hurt my blogging to a degree, but only one blog out of 3 suffers, so perhaps it's the other blogs that hurt the one.
BUT, when I teach Twitter, I try to drive home a couple of points: Twitter is not for everyone, and Twitter is forever - watch what you tweet.

I think Twitter is just in the same spot blogs were a few years ago, where it's all you hear about. Now blogs are pretty much mainstream. Ellen is now twittering. Once Oprah gets into Twitter it will go 100% mainstream and you won't hear about it anymore. :-)

Cheers!

Michelle, a recent article showed that Gen Y hadn't embraced Twitter just yet, so you're not alone: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/SMC/81795. Thanks for putting your ideas out there. It is what social media is all about 8~)

Hi Michelle

Thank God - I thought it was just me. Like yourself, I tried, but I just don't get it. To me, Twitter is just an endless stream of the banal and inane. There is an occasional gem, but given the amount of flotsam and jetsam you have to wade through, I wonder at its intrinsic value.

I have probably only opened it twice in the last four months, and while I feel that I am frightfully behind the "I am walking to work" and "its raining" news I think I will manage to cope.

I have to admit, I enjoyed Twitter for its instantaneous responses, but the problem was that once a good point was raised, the conversation became too hard due to the restriction of 140 characters. Perhaps that is my problem and not a failing of Twitter.

Maybe its me; maybe I just love language too much to condense to 140 characters; maybe I just cannot be that precise with my thoughts; maybe I am following the wrong crowd (my mother was always worried that I would do that). Who knows?

I think your point is great, Michelle. I've been tuning in to get the feel, and tweeting now and then. It's interesting, but I share your concerns about the emphasis on the lack of depth and complex thoughts.

...although, following Twitter doesn't seem to have kept me from thinking (and writing) longer thoughts...as you can see from my comments on your post before this one!

Michele, I understand you. I usually only follow people I already know: from Delicious, blogs I read, Online Forums, Conferences, Courses. They are already my friends and contacts. People I would like to meet more easily online. Only then I will be interested to learn more about them and follow their lives in Twitter.

John--glad I could give you a laugh--I particularly enjoyed the Jon Stewart video, myself! I hear you on using Tweetdeck and that might help. But honestly, not sure I'll be trying it soon. :-)

Michelle--you're right about Twitter not being for everyone. On some level, it strikes me as a tool for extroverts, while introverts might enjoy blogging more. My husband is very extroverted and the little blurbs I read on Twitter are reminiscent of his conversational style.

Lance--I agree COMPLETELY about loving language too much to reduce things to 140 characters. It's a fun exercise now and then (like writing a haiku), but not something I personally want as a regular diet.

Jane--you're right that Twitter hasn't changed your ability to write long, thoughtful comments--thanks for that great stuff on the meritocracy post!

And Eduardo, it is better when you follow people you know online. I think that my practice of following back when people follow me (which seemed like good etiquette) has probably backfired. Even so, it's still just a LOT of stuff to get through.

Very interesting discussion - I think I am more in your camp than any other...

However, I have initiated a pilot internal to our company using Yammer and Present.ly - work domain specific versions of Twitter. Same functionality.

We're hoping that a lot of the casual postings about what we're working on and what we're reading will actually generate a discussion of useful discourse to learn about our customers, projects, employeess... As well as keep our social ties vibrant (we're 1000+ all across the globe, so we don't get to visit each other all that much!)

I agree with John that you need a way to filter the stream. Tweetdeck does that pretty well. I guess I am in the "let it wash over you and just pick out the good bits" camp. I don't tweet much, mostly links, and am narrowly focused. I don't care to tweet about personal things, but as a node on my PLN I find twitter beneficial.

I think twittering in a workplace environment would be great. It might take the place of hallway conversations that can no longer happen because we are physically separated. But you would need that filter--much workplace conversation probably does not need to be tweeted to the world!

Some very funny videos, and I identify with your comment about just looking to see what my daughter tweets. A few friends that I'd like to hear more from have started following me on twitter, but it is hard to know what to say when everything can be overheard, so to speak.

I'm much more likely to update my facebook status than my twitter, especially since people actually talk to me in person about some of my status updates, but every so often I feel obliged to those following me on twitter to put down something. I don't look at the tweets of anyone I'm not following, and some of the bloggers I'm following tweet several times a day, and I mostly ignore them.

Twitter, by its very nature, is primarily a spam platform. Oh, you can yuck it up & chit-chat with some people, but most of the hardcore "pro" Twitterers are only there to use it as another means to plug their blogs, Facebook, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, or some other social network - or to promote their services.

Admittedly, I've done a dab of self-promotion for my blog on Twitter - and I've seen a small uptick in site traffic as a result - but while I'm very thankful for any new visitors I can attract, I'm not at all sure that the meager return merits the time & effort I've expended.

And just as with so many of the blogs you'll come across, the Tweeterverse is especially rife with metaTweeting - Tweeting about Tweeting and often those posts don't really offer any value or enjoyment.

The single most productive thing I've done on Twitter has been to discover a couple of dozen other users in my own geographical region, many of whom have their blogs listed in their profiles so I've been able to expand the list of area bloggers that I keep on my site.

I'm not sure the tool is only as good as how you use it. Some tools are only good for certain things--it's hard to iron a shirt with a corkscrew, for example. And some tools are just plain crummy, which is why other tools get invented. Otherwise you'd be blogging in cuneiform on clay tablets.

In my first nine months on Twitter, I managed 63 tweets (I know; I've got the data), including one month with only 1. That made Twitter better than my gym attendance in the same period, a sorry commentary on...something.

I do find it useful, in specialized ways. I'm with John Z. (in more ways than one), off in a corner that I've furnished to suit me. I learned a lot about the AG09 conference (including what "AG09" meant) from following a couple of intelligent people who shared their impressions. I've discovered a network of people working on improving how the federal government serves the public (I'm near DC). And I'm still pulling the three-links-out rabbit out of the same hat by following people whose careers are far outside my usual haunts.

I can easily be distracted, so Twitter works best when I visit for 15 minutes at a time, a couple of times a day.

I wouldn't worry about your lack of enthusiasm any more than I worry about my avoidance of bluegrass singing. For a kid who went to St. Brigid's School in Detroit, I quote this Quaker maxim a lot: proceed as the way opens.

I'm not sure if you still use Netvibes, but I've found the Twitter widget for Netvibes and easy way to check the tweets.

Bahahaha The HITLER video is hilarious!!! I love it!

I'm a BIG twitter user. What's your username?

Michele,
My Twitter habits continue to change. I find it a valuable tool which randomly feeds me valuable links, a means of contacting others with common interests, a way to shout out for help, a search tool, etc. I have however, stopped the constant monitoring; I glance at a few tweets periodically and I try to contribute something helpful to others. Of course I throw a few tweets for fun, just to let people know I have not lost my sense of humor.

I am concerned (and really don't understand) whats happening with tweets which feed multiple communication paths. A tweet can be duplicated in Yammer. The same tweet sends an e-mail link. Where do I respond? Are we creating redundant communication paths which fragment the conversation even more?

Twitter is still a very useful tool to me, but I'm continuing to think about my needs and uses.

Stay tuned.

Michele, You know I just had to send out a tweet linking to this post.-) I agree with John and others. As a continuous learner,Tweetdeck allows me to search for keywords & terms important to my work. I have been able to "meet" thought leaders I could never have known.

Kudos for a well thought out blog post and for the great videos.

Glenn

I'm with you on this one.

I do like Twitter the more I get to know what it's about. Originally, however, just its very named turned me off before I had my change of heart.

I'm in Sales and Marketing, and branding is such an important concept. They could really use a word with significant impact that conveys efficiency. For starters, choose a word with at least 1 long vowel, not 2 short ones.

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