As far as the attraction of Twitter goes, I’ve come full circle.
Initially, I really didn’t get it as, for the most part, it seemed to be all about the minutiae of selected celebrities lives. I felt about Twitter the same as I felt about Big Brother: it’s what passes for entertainment for people who don’t have lives of their own. (Harsh and pompous I know, but it was how I felt at the time.)
And then, I thought I’d got it: in a world of infinite information, it was a way of keeping track of new thinking on themes and by opinion formers that interested you.
But now I wonder how impoverished, or not, would my life be without Twitter?
I’ve signed up to follow some very eloquent, well-informed people on subjects that interest me, both professionally and personally, but, even when I’m not working fulltime, I don’t have the time or inclination it takes to really follow them. When I’m researching my next blog post when, undoubtedly, some of the people I’m following would have highly relevant opinions, I find it much quicker to use a search engine and find several insights into the subject within seconds. I don’t even use Twitter as inspiration for my blog as I don’t aspire to (so blatantly) pit my knowledge against these subject matter experts.
I am also concerned about one of the side effects of Twitter (and texting), namely the growing evidence that “..the current generation of internet consumers live in a world of ‘instant gratification and quick fixes’ which leads to a ‘loss of patience and a lack of deep thinking’ “ (source: Guardian media blog March 2012).
18-24 year olds are the fastest growing age group of Twitter users (source: Pew Research Center’s Tracking Survey Mar/Apr2012). Brian Solis’s blog on this research found that “Twitter users and those who use smart phones are eventually becoming one. As of this survey, Pew discovered that one in five smartphone owners (20%) are Twitter users, with 13% using the service on a typical day. Millennials are born with digital DNA and smart phones are a physical extension of their being. 18-24 are not only the fastest growing group of Twitter adopters over the last year, they also represent the largest increase in smartphone usage of any demographic group over the same time period.” (Source: Brian Solis blog July 2012).
My disillusionment with Twitter strengthened when I found a peer from university who has become a minor media celebrity and built up a following of several thousand on Twitter. I assume that the majority of his followers don’t know him, but perhaps think they do through his public persona. Looking at his Twitter stream (flood?), it seems that his dedication in responding to comments and thus having ‘conversations’ with his followers is a factor in building up his sizeable following. I remember him as erudite, opinionated, witty and a great conversationalist, so his success both in media and on Twitter is unsurprising. But I find myself wondering how he finds time to post his 45,000 tweets? I imagine him sitting at home, watching TV or reading, or listening to the radio, and he’s struck by a random thought that he simply must share with his 12,000+ followers. Presumably he is alone most of these times otherwise he would content himself with sharing his thoughts with his companions? Having built up this following, does he now feel obliged to keep feeding the machine and is he perhaps sacrificing meaningful relationships for virtual ones?
I have been interested to note the emergence of a new style of blogging platform including Storylane and Medium – a publishing platform recently launched by two of Twitter’s co-founders. Both services provide a simple and well-designed way for users to share short blog posts, with Medium focusing improving the “connective tissue of society” (social media theorist Chay Shirky) so that it is “…Better for creators. Better for consumers. Better for the world.” Storylane’s goal is to “encourages users to go beyond posting status updates and instead dive deeper into the narratives of their lives” (source: Mashable).
Storylane has a series of straplines to promote the site. The one I particularly love is : It is advised not to keep things that matter to yourself. In my opinion we need more than 140 characters to say the things that matter to us and perhaps that makes me more enlightened than Luddite?