Reflections on the religion of Twitter: Part II

Oh boy.

 So now that I’m going to be interviewed tomorrow for a blogpost I wrote about Twitter — a post I initially figured might be read by my golden retriever Murphy and three friends –I guess I’d better actually learn something about it.

Me, the guy with (an embarrassingly low) 93 followers and two weeks experience under my belt.  Me, who predicted Twitter just might go the way of the Flip cam a few years down the road and be left in the fumes of The Next Big Thing.

Being a contrarian can be fun, but I’m finding it has its risks. First The Christian Science Monitor picked up my piece (interesting in that it shows a new world in which legacy media will pick up a piece that’s already run on a personal blog).  Then I got an email from a free-lancer who lines up guests for satellite radio.  Tomorrow is my debut on — ta-da — WZTK, in Greensboro, N.C. (I’ll have to remember to get out my road atlas.)

So what am I learning from my research?

 Well, no question that Twitter these days is just about the hottest thing since Charlie Sheen, the first man to attract 1 million Twitter followers in a day — if you can consider a crude comedian hot. 

 That Twitter has been hailed, repeatedly, for its role in spreading, or at least communicating, revolutions roiling the Middle East. But that’s old news.

 That my friend and colleague Mark Leccese writes on his Gatekeeper blog for that Twitter is where he learned the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead (after, that is, he learned there that Osama Bin Laden had been captured).

On a lighter note, I’ve also learned that this is what happened when teen idol Justin Bieber got mad at an annoying fan and played a Twitter prank on him. Mashable reports that  after Bieber tweeted the fan’s phone number as if it were his own, “said fan’s phone was ringing off the hook for hours and [he] received at least 26,000 text messages.”

But then, that’s not surprising given another Mashable piece last week suggesting all tweets published last year plus every link published on Twitter during the past two years totaled more than 30 billion.  

Yikes. These 140-character word darts are starting to pile up like the national debt. Who can keep track?

So could it be, just maybe, that I’m wrong in suggesting Twitter could go the way of the Flip cam in four or five years — that it’s wishful thinking on my part? You bet.

 On the other hand, that’s the beauty of prediction. You’ll have to wait four or five years to find out.

Does it mean, meanwhile, that I’ve changed my mind about Twitter? Not on your life.

To the contrary, I was thrilled to read that New Yorker writer George Packer, one of my favorite journalists, called Twitter “crack [as in cocaine] for media addicts”  early last year. And that a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project two years ago found that for every American enthusiastic about socializing over social media could be found another who was either indifferent to it, avoided it or felt overwhelmed by it, according to an report.

“A good conversation with a good friend is much more life-affirming than a few tortuously abbreviated or emotion-filled lines in a tweet that anyone can read,” a University of Richmond neuroscientist told MSNBC. “How special is that?”

Not very, I would continue to argue — certainly not special enough for me to delve too much deeper into the brave new world of #htstff technology. Well, let me amend that. As a professor of journalism, I am willing to begrudgingly admit that I have little choice but to pay some attention.

This summer, I’ve decided, I’ve got to delve deeply enough  into Twitter to give my students tips on how to use it as an effective reporting tool. (And a tool it is …. not some new form of narrative writing, as some would argue …. not the Second Coming).

As I teach, of course, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that not too many get hooked on Packer’s “crack.” I’ve seen the signs in class already: thumb to Smartphone, faraway gaze, glazed grin.

As for myself, I’ve made a summer pledge. I’m going to keep weekly technology-free days, to walk, wander and engage with fellow human beings. You know, the old-fashioned way — face-to-face.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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