IN ORDER TO “GET” TWITTER, YOU HAVE TO BE A PARTICIPANT…
Part One: On the Importance of Twitter…
I have often wondered about the importance of Twitter. My initial understanding of the medium formed when it first developed popularity. It was like Facebook, but better because as someone excitedly shared with me, “you only get the updates.” I’ll be honest, this didn’t exactly woo me. There is a piece of something inside me that balks at the idea of promoting my daily habits and thoughts to an invisible audience. Even on Facebook, I am much more of a voyeur than a participant.
Now I’m not a shy person. I stand up in front of a classroom on a daily basis and use my cult of personality as a tool to drag 125+ freshmen down the path of least resistance (hopefully), that will lead them to some sort of competent understanding of classics like The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet. I share exorbitant amounts of thinking, and carry on countless conversations with my students. So why do I have a problem doing this online?
I took this question to my teaching colleagues. Interestingly, my admittedly small sample mostly echoed my own line of thinking about Twitter. They didn’t see a point to it. Only one had ever signed up, and she closed the account shortly afterwards because she felt it “contributed to a society that only wants instant gratification.” In a very non-scientific poll of these same colleagues a few days later, most of them said that they were on Facebook, but also explained that they rarely posted anything. They shared my tendency to not actively participate, even while using social media.
And this I think is the real question about Twitter. Can it be important if you are not willing to be a participant?
Twitter is about posts, but it is also about conversations. It’s about real information that is coming at you quickly. Twitter is like a finally (mostly) reliable game of telephone. You are allowed to add information, but it doesn’t have to replace or distort the original message, your tweets augment it instead.
In an article on Twitter for the New York Times, David Carr quotes Clay Shirkey who says that Twitter has been useful to both Iranian dissidents and celebrities like Martha Stewart. This seems to be Twitter’s real power. It has a usefulness to disparate people in completely different arenas with completely different needs, except for one: the need to communicate to a larger audience.
Maybe that’s why, as a teacher, my colleagues and I couldn’t understand the necessity of Twitter at first. Our audience is conveniently scheduled to meet with us Monday-Friday, in hour-long increments. We don’t have to actively seek them out, and they don’t have much choice in the matter either. Twitter users fight to be heard, and if good enough, reach a far larger audience on a daily basis than some teachers do.