To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Friday 7 March 2014

A few years ago, I had some odd habits. One of these involved getting out of bed at 5am. After rising, I’d have a hurried breakfast, cycle to work, shower, and by 6am I was at my desk, in the cozy company of coffee brewing comfortingly in the corner. And all was well until a colleague developed the same condition – presumably he too was struggling to find an alternative, better life – and I was forced to share my early morning solitude and my coffee. Worse, instead of concentrated work, I now had the opportunity to procrastinate in idle chat.

Now, my interlocutor was intelligent and witty, a proselytizer for technology in the classroom, and so I sat up and paid attention when he announced: ‘if you’re not on Twitter you’re no one’. He looked me down. Didn’t flinch. He meant it. Since I wasn’t then on Twitter – in fact, I’d scarcely heard of it – I was taken aback. My obsolescence had been announced. Like an agnostic who knows he is dying, I went in search of my deity. I signed up to Twitter. But I didn’t use it. I just continued getting up early, brewing coffee, and waiting out my imminent desuetude.

Time passed. My colleague moved on. I got a dog, and found that instead of working I could take my canine for a walk in the wee hours of the morning. And I returned to Twitter, no longer scared of being forced into the trash can marked ‘Luddite’, and determined to finally ‘get it’.

But, for a long time, I didn’t.

And in my skepticism and bafflement around Twitter, and social media generally, I am not alone. A few weeks ago, Adam Gopnik wrote an article that he called ‘Why I don’t tweet’. It is hard to find much or anything to disagree with. Gopnik’s article is the epitome of good judgment. He writes that ‘whilst I have a Twitter account, I almost never use it. I’m not sure why I don’t. Partly because there seems something embarrassing, self-advertising about it’. He also writes that ‘the transformational effect [new communicating technologies] have on our lives is actually, looked at squarely and without sentiment, quite minimal’. And when Gopnik writes that ‘modern media technology […] creates a dependency without ever actually addressing a need’, I’m sure you can hear me cheer. Nor, Gopnik claims, does Twitter make revolutions. And Twitter will soon seem as dated as your 1980 Sony Walkman Mk.1 – a further Gopnik intimation.

So far so good. However, my struggle to understand Twitter, to travel to its very raison d’etre, has forced me to look at myself, and to recognize, as my colleague had earlier insinuated, that I am not important. Because Twitter is not about me. No one cares if I can or cannot turn a phrase in 140 characters or less. And I don’t much care if you can either. Twitter is not ‘Haikus for Dummies’. But, if you can find like-minded souls, people with shared interests, and you follow their Internet links, or a few of them, there is, just sometimes, rich reading to be had.

All of which presupposes that spending time online is well-spent time. One could equally spend a life in conversation and coffee drinking, or walking the dog.

A week ago, the website published a teaching idea based on Twitter and the book Twitterature. In truth, the activity is unlikely to provoke ‘deep understandings’, but it does stimulate mirth, and it readies students for more serious pursuits.


The Lesson
4 Feb 2014

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