The problem with Twitter

Every day it seems there's a new essay or post about social networking fatigue, virtual connectivity's isolating effects, and the threats posed by rapid-fire media. Most of all, though, it's about the problem with Twitter. My "25 random things I hate about Twitter" post attracted an usually large amount of traffic, including several visits from those who were alerted to the piece via Twitter, but that was written at least half in jest. Now allow me to share with you some more carefully considered criticisms.

The problem with Twitter is not that it's useless. As überTwitterfan Coturnix has pointed out, there are ways in which someone could monitor tweets, filter them and assemble into something resembling a coherent analysis:

Find and collect 10 such links in 10 tweets during the day. Read the responses by others on Twitter, on FriendFeed (where you export your Twitter feed) and Facebook (where you also export your FriendFeed feed). By the end of the day, you have material for a blog post.

Coturnix likes to point to Jay Rosen's Twitter work, but I can't make hear nor tail of it. Can anyone else?

It seems to me that this sort of thing takes time, time that in most cases would be better spent reading more thoughtful pieces that involve more than 140 characters, thinking about what you've read and then writing, editing and rewriting what you want to say. I'm not alone in feeling this way, as Sheril Kirshenbaum has been documenting.

David Crotty, the executive editor at Cold Spring Harbor, writes somewhat despairingly about the medium:

There's also a certain laziness that Twitter seems to breed. While one constantly reads about the incredible discipline needed to edit posts to 140 characters, no one seems to mention the massive quantity of those disciplined 140 character messages that are generated.
Several of the bloggers whose writing I enjoy are spending more time on Twitter than on their blogs as of late (John Hodgman for one, Neil Gaiman for another). While both are superb writers, neither generates anything I'm interested in reading via Twitter. I do understand why we're seeing this shift, it's easier to just spew out a thought off the top of your head than to sit and spend an hour (or hours) fully fleshing out an idea. Which is why I think it's a lazy medium.

Crotty's points are well taken. John Hodgman may be hilarious on The Daily Show or even those Mac vs. PC commercials, but why on Earth would anyone want to subscribe to a Twitter feed that is dominated by Tweets the likes of

Am twittering this from a segway. WHAT HAVE I BECOME?


Of course I meant to write: what sort of noise "does" Randy Newman make when you run into him? And instead of "make," let's say "EMIT"

I have no objection to making use of one of those tools that allows bloggers to automatically syndicate their RSS feed through Twitter. If someone wants to stay on top of their favorite blogs that way, fine. But anyone who abandons long form exposition in favor of tweets is fooling themselves if they think they're getting the same quality of information and thoughtfulness. There's a reason most newspaper columns are 600-900 words long. It takes that long to put things into context and explain an idea.

So yes, one could emulate Jay Rosen and obsess all day long over what everyone else is twittering about. If everyone actually followed the tinyurl links and read the full piece to which the tweet was pointing, that would be wonderful. But they aren't. Because there's no way around the fact that instant microblogging discourages thoughtfulness. The more you Tweet, the less you think. The more Tweets you follow, the less you understand.

Here's a few slow-blogged words from "the Wobbler" that capture my feelings rather well.

...blogging was the Twitter before Twitter! It was an easy outlet of whatever one wanted to say online right there and then, quick and dirty! Format be damned! But when blogging became a more serious activity for professionals, the people behind Twitter had to look for the next format where "quick and dirty" was the rule, no exceptions. By limiting it to 140 characters, they have successfully captured, no... abducted the "quick and dirty" feel and complemented it with the "repeatedly strive for quick achievements, no matter how small" concept.

No wonder they called it Twitter: it sounds and means something fast, whereas "blog" sounds slow and its definition reminds me of something slow. If there ever was an alien called "Blog", you know it would be something big, fat, wobbling with multiple layers of whatever.

Exactly. Big fat, wobbling and lots of layers. The human experience. Food for thought. Sure, good writing is concise and lean, but 140 characters doesn't just remove the fat, it eliminates nutrition completely. David Crotty gets the last word:

If you want my valuable attention, then you need to do a little work. Edit it down, keep the good bits, and develop those ideas further. The raw material is just blather, and frankly, I don't have a lot of time to listen to other people blathering. You're just not that interesting.

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The last paragraph quoted applies equally to this otiose column. Use twitter or don't but don't criticize others who do blog in 140 characters.

Concentrate on the science.

Q - Am twittering this from a segway. WHAT HAVE I BECOME?

A - Who gives a ratt's rear?

As a teacher of college aged students, we have gone from the paper, to the short paper, to the article, to the blog, to the tweet.... how much LESS can I demand of my students. They can't pay attention through a whole youtube video. You can't hold their attention for 5 seconds without them getting a text or a twirp or a twoot...

What is happening to intelligence? Is that less than 140?

If you were on Twitter, you would have been informed, as it was linked there a lot, that the so-called "study" you cite is totally bogus.

I detest Twitter. It's a firehose of jumbled thoughts and mundane observations. So I'm sticking to Facebook where I can compose longer and more rambling contents for my closest friends. Snark.

Downplaying Twitter because of the lack of thoughtful pieces is a bit like downplaying emails because of a lack of character development and plot.

Cultivate the right group of people to follow, and I've found Twitter invaluable for providing a constant stream of links to useful professional development tools, classroom ideas, and other resources. For myself, at least, Twitter hasn't replaced the blog. It's replaced the need to Google.



Because Coturnix usually has interesting ideas about blogging and social media, and writes about them in an engaging manner, I decided to read a few Twitter feeds from a variety of different people. Stephen Fry's tweets were the only ones I found remotely entertaining: Ducks and so forth. Blossoms. Bluebells. Breakfast. Bliss.

But then, Stephen Fry would be entertaining and witty, given only semaphore flags and a dog whistle. All the other Twitter feeds -especially those from various science bloggers- were dead boring. Made me realize that my life is not so very mundane, in comparison, so I guess that's a plus. ;-)