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What good is Twitter? How a telltale tic is twitching us into twits

By John Shirley
Tuesday, July 3, 2012 2:42 EDT
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It’s now thought that the reason CNN and Fox mistakenly reported, at first, that the ACA mandate had been struck down by the Supreme Court… was simply because some chucklehead pseudo-reporter in the room TWEETED the wrong information. (CNN et al may deny this—I don’t believe them, as the indications are strong.)

The “reporter” heard a couple of preliminary remarks and, on impulse, reported them as a conclusion. Since Twitter remarks go out as twitchy impulsive responses, rather than as reasoned assessment, the tweeter 
simply sent out the first hint of a decision, rather than the real SCOTUS
 decision.

Out of a desire to be first with the news in a twitchy, headline-sick nation, CNN and Fox ran with the tweet, expanding it into fallacious news stories… even before Roberts had quite finished speaking. The absurdly inaccurate “Dewey Beats Truman” newspaper headline of 1948 is becoming a 21st century way of journalistic life.

Which brings me to my question, WHAT GOOD IS TWITTER?

Sure, it’s useful to publicists and to lonely people stricken with egregiously short attention spans, but who else does Twitter help, in any serious way? If you’re trying to hype a new Sham-Wu! cleaning product, or tell your fans your new country music album is released, fine; and it has been used for quick updates about people in disaster zones. It has some occasional, fitful usefulness.

But in the big picture, what good is it?  Isn’t it actually a deleterious, corrosive influence on people?

The internet itself is useful—it has its destructive side, but it does more good than harm.

Twitter, in my opinion, has its useful side, but does more harm than good.

Twitter is mostly designed for use with mobile devices. Everyone knows that the excessive use of mobile devices is now a corrosive lifestyle influence. Smartphone fixation is ridiculed, satirized again and again. The obsessed are embarrassed by it–yet we keep leaning over that vat of corrosion; we keep falling in.

At a café this morning, I looked over at a lady breakfasting with her two small children. She was staring into her smartphone–I could glimpse a Twitter feed. The children looked bored and unhappy—they kept glancing at her, waiting for her to come back from the “feed”. She was on it the whole time I was there. The kids ate breakfast but, ironically, they clearly felt unfed.

That woman was not in the same room with her children. Just being a body sitting in the same booth is not being there. Of course, there are degrees of detachment, aloofness, even without a smartphone in your hand, but Twitter, texting, and other addictive smartphone media, are inevitably going to extend
those distances.

This is going to sound self righteous, a moral one-upmanship, but I’ll take that hit, because it’s the nearest example I have: I have an iPhone; I use it almost entirely for phone calls, and not too often. I choose not to go on the internet while using my smartphone, unless I need directions or have to check the traffic.

I mention this just to show it really is possible to use the damn things sparingly. I’m going to post this very article on the internet—I do most of my writing research on the internet—but that happens at my desk, where I spend enough time, and not too much.

I’ve been through the “too much” phase, and I left it behind. I’m bearing witness. I’ve shown it can be done. Others have as well.

It may be that Twitter is the most corrosive influence in smartphone media. It creates a false sense of public notoriety–people imagine that they’re “Twitter celebrities”. Of course, a lot of real celebrities use it—most celebrities have short attention spans anyway, so it’s natural for them–but I think the majority of people use it because they mistakenly think it might help them become celebrated.

And I suspect that at least some of them—faux celebrities and real ones alike–secretly hate themselves for consigning so much of their attention to Twitter… Twitter is, in design, superficial, fragmentary. One cannot form a long thought on Twitter. It’s a medium for froth. There’s a place for froth—but this particular froth is choking us.

Just look at CNN—they are constantly referring to Twitter accounts, they run lines of Twitter commentary below the main heading. Now we’re seeing the fallout from all that exposure. Bad reporting.

CNN leapt into Twitter headfirst; it rapidly succumbed to the trendoid desire for constant electronic update, to the extent that tweets trumped journalism.

Human beings were already prone to impulsiveness, to blurting, to chattering, to speaking without thinking. Twitter over-feeds (so to speak) that proclivity; it stimulates the part of the brain wired for impulse. It jolts the human brain into releasing stimulant chemicals at regular pulses so that the user tends to return to the tweet process spasmodically, compulsively.

Comedians have lost their careers through a single impulsive tweet; more importantly, Anthony Weiner, a good man, lost his congressional seat through succumbing to mindless Twitter impulsiveness.

Twitter rewards short attention spans; it tugs us away from actual thinking, nudges us toward reacting. Craig Newmark, talking to WebProNews, recently observed that Twitter pushes us away from fact checking:

“People often hear rumors, report it on social media, and then the news outlets scramble to get on top of the story and sometimes things are not fact-checked enough in today’s battle to scoop the news first. Overwhelmingly, I hear that people have kind of given up on trusting political news.”

And I’d better give up on this article—I can’t go on too long. I’ll lose too many readers before the end… they want to check their Twitter feed.

John Shirley is the author of numerous novels, story collections, screenplays (“THE CROW”), teleplays and articles. A futurologist and social critic, John was a featured speaker at TED-x in Brussels in 2011. His novels include Everything is Broken, The A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy (omnibus released in 2012), Bleak History, Demons, City Come A-Walkin’ and The Other End. His short story collection Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker Award, and was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of the year. His new story collection is In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. His stories have been included in three Year’s Best anthologies. He is also a songwriter (eg, for Blue Oyster Cult), and a singer. Black October records will soon be releasing a compilation of selected songs, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS: Recordings by John Shirley, 1978-2011. The authorized website is at john-shirley.com


John Shirley
John Shirley
John Shirley is the author of numerous novels, story collections, screenplays ("THE CROW"), teleplays and articles. A futurologist and social critic, John was a featured speaker at TED-x in Brussels in 2011. His novels include Everything is Broken, The A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy (omnibus released in 2012), Bleak History, Demons, City Come A-Walkin' and The Other End. His short story collection Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker Award, and was chosen by Publisher's Weekly as one of the best books of the year. His new story collection is In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. His stories have been included in three Year's Best anthologies. He is also a songwriter (eg, for Blue Oyster Cult), and a singer. Black October records will soon be releasing a compilation of selected songs, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS: Recordings by John Shirley, 1978-2011. The authorized website is at john-shirley.com ...
 
 
 
 
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