Features

Paul Constant Reviews Twitter

Has Twitter changed the world? Has it changed journalism? Has it changed writing? Is it necessary? Is it ever going to stop?

Paul Constant Reviews Twitter

Mark Kaufmann

On January 16, 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson, Twitter was the first to know, and it knew the most for hours.

Faster than they told YouTube, people told Twitter what was happening.

In breaking news, eyewitness reports are almost always more valuable and interesting than a journalist's accounts.

Watching New Yorkers tell their stories on 9/11 was more compelling, more real, than anything else CNN could relay.

Most viewers would rather follow the bearded biker who shouts, "It came out of nowhere!" than return to the smiling, phony telejournalist.

We're telling each other stories, 140 characters at a time, as they unfold. If you can't see the value in that, you're hopeless.

There are plenty of people who claim Twitter is stupid and pointless, that it's a ridiculous fad for bored, oversharing white kids.

Or that the media is making something up that isn't there. They say it's impractical. It's an Easter-colored symptom of cultural brain-rot.

People get upset talking about it, the way some rage against Crocs or Snuggies. John Mayer recently called Twitter "silly and dumb."

(But John Mayer is ignoring the fact that John Mayer is silly and dumb, a shar-pei of a human celebrated for a novelty song from 2001.)

Someone online named Dave Winer says Twitter is "the holy grail of open identity" and "an ecosystem," specifically "a coral reef."

But, then, the single greatest export on the internet—greater, even, than information—is hyperbole.

Hyperbole is human nature and even the internet, happily, can't outrun human nature. Read any blog comments and you'll see that that's true.

Like most hyperbole, the truth is somewhere in the middle—between "the future of journalism" and "silly and dumb." But where?

The most common defensive posture adopted by people exposed to new ideas is to find someone even newer and feign comprehensive knowledge.

A great deal of time on the internet is spent finding different ways to say, "Oh, you didn't know that already? Huh. I've known for ages."

So I'm going to say something that might strike you as weird and naive, but it's true. Listen: The internet is still very, very new.

Most people haven't even been on the internet for 10 years yet. Ten years! Every technology is lawless frontier after just 10 years.

Television was still radio with scenery 10 years after its inception. People pointed, awestruck, at planes 10 years after Kittyhawk.

We're just learning what the internet can do, and we'll learn a lot more once children born today grow up with today's internet.

I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that much of this recession—media tanking and entertainment choking to death—is because of the net.

In many ways, the Seattle P-I died on the day that Google was born. It stayed alive on our surplus, but it died when our money dwindled.

Here's another truth: Nobody has any clue what's going on. That's why sneering at Twitter is worse than blindly loving Twitter.

Historically, very little has been accomplished by being cynical (maybe some broken hearts have been prevented, but at what cost?).

So, like any ape observing any tool, we must ask: What can Twitter do for me? Why should I care and not just carelessly discard it?

(A note about the 140-character restrictions: The limit is based on old SMS texting restrictions, but it really could be any number.

One hundred and sixty or one hundred and eighty-seven or one hundred and ninety-nine. The actual restrictions are unimportant.

It's watching the human inventiveness that arises from the restrictions—watching the way people play with the limited space—that's fun.

As in haiku, which has dozens of esoteric limitations, when you constrain a form, you can often broaden what people can do with it.

Of course people chafe at the constraints and make messes of language trying to shoehorn it in. It's because we're humans. It's what we do.)

The eyewitness appeal of Twitter also is the root cause of one of its most laudable complaints: that it's about narcissism.

That's true. There is narcissism there. But the internet is built on vanity. Cities are built on vanity. Art, religion, science: vanity.

When anything is made, people will find a way to see their reflection in it. As soon as their reflection appears, they'll want to fuck it.

Twitter is not going to replace blogging. It only does a small amount of things very well, but it does those things easily and flawlessly.

The thing most people will probably, eventually use Twitter for is its clean and efficient search engine.

The search function on Twitter is an amazing thing: It's a focused laser beam into what people are thinking about right now.

And it's permanently set to "now": It doesn't have anything to do with the past or with archiving. That is an innovation in and of itself.

An inordinate amount of the internet is devoted to archiving and filing all the world that existed before the internet.

Twitter is reflexive, instinct driven, present. It doesn't care about the past. It's hard to find a post older than a week old. It's work.

And the best part of the 140-character limitation is that it does not reward passive language. Things are always going on now.

It's a language of verbs, of -ings. The internet is not often an active place. It's passive.

Even e-mail, which is supposed to be active and immediate, sometimes feels like scraping the barnacles off the present day. It's past tense.

Google recently announced a new product, called Google Wave, that is in beta testing. The concept: "What if e-mail were invented now?"

This one time, Google is behind the times. Twitter is probably what would happen if e-mail were invented right now.

It combines social networking, e-mail, blogging, and—through text messaging—the real world in ways that make everything before look dumb.

Twitter's gotten a lot of use (and attention) the last few weeks because of the unrest caused by the Iranian election.

On Twitter, if you want to make something "sticky," you add a hashtag (#) to a term to reference a specific event or concept.

Major trends on Twitter when I looked two weeks after the election included #IranElection, #GreenRevolution, #seaofgreen, and #Iran.

And Twitterers from all over the world had changed their accounts to appear as though they were Twittering from Tehran.

It's unclear if this effectively confused Iranian internet censors, but it was great political theater, a Spartacus moment.

And this is really huge: People communicating to the world at large from a hostile nation on a mass scale! It's unprecedented.

Citizens were reporting about Iranian government abuses of power, violations of human rights, and voter fraud.

While writing this, reports were flooding in about police assaulting a crowd that gathered to peacefully pray at a protester's grave.

Yet again, the internet was making an ass out of the mainstream media. There was even a #CNNfail tag to signify the press's incompetence.

The eyewitnesses have pulled the microphone away from the vapid newscaster. It's a beautiful, messy, human thing to see.

Of course, public consciousness is a fickle thing: When Michael Jackson died, posts about him swept Iran from Twitter's collective memory.

The New York Times quoted a senior researcher at Harvard Law School: "Roughly 15% of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson."

He continued: "Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over 5%."

Life and death situations are few and far between. The vast majority of people are using Twitter for small talk and idiocy.

(While I was sitting here writing this, @destroy_police wrote "id like to thank god for farrah fawcett's death

finally over shadowing the dumb faggot #iranelection shit.")

There are more idiots, like @destroy_police, in the world than there are thoughtful people, so of course Twitter is going to trend dumb.

But interesting things happen on Twitter all the time.

Writer Dan Baum (@danielsbaum) wrote a long-form Twitter essay, broken up like this essay, about his awful experience working

on contract for the New Yorker. He called the office "creepy" and "strained." It was the most candid look inside the magazine

since Brendan Gill's Here at The New Yorker.

New Yorker reporter (and avid Twitterer) Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) responded to Baum's feed in the magazine's defense. She ended it:

"Time to cook dinner & leave the journalistic hair-pulling nude wrestling match, much as I have enjoyed it (especially the nude part)."

It was no Vidal vs. Mailer, but it was the closest thing to a real literary battle I've seen in years.

The fact that people can disagree and argue in real time on Twitter is important. It removes the ponderous formality of publishing.

And the arguments are delightfully public, for anyone to see. Twitterfighting isn't a verb yet, but I hope it soon will be.

There are other uses, too. Astronaut Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) constantly Twittered during a mission to repair the Hubble telescope.

"From orbit: We see 16 sunrises and sunsets in 24 hrs, each one spectacular as the sun lights up the atmosphere in a spectrum of colors."

Some of the posts, like the above, were fascinating. Other posts were incredibly banal. But that was interesting, too.

It was kind of the anti-Armstrong trip: It turned space travel from a Kennedyesque adventure into another job, with exciting and dull parts.

People like @twitterfiction and @thaumatrope are publishing tiny burst-fiction 140 characters at a time. The results are often surprising.

To my knowledge, nobody has tried writing a novel on Twitter. But that surely can't be too far from becoming a reality.

There's some great satire. Someone has been posting as "Fake Michael Bay" (@michael_bay), parodying Hollywood bombast and self-importance.

"One time I killed 8 sharks with my bare hands and brought them back to life with nothing but a megaphone and my directing skills."

The number of hucksters on Twitter is remarkably small. A few unimaginative magazines only Twitter to link to new content on their sites.

But using Twitter to sell shit feels awkward and fake, and if you keep at it for too long, people will get bored and stop following you.

It's significant that Twitter hasn't been able to find a way to monetize the service. Maybe there's no room for bullshit in 140 characters.

Admittedly, Twitter's official vocabulary is nauseating: "Tweets" (Twitter posts) and "Tweeple" (people who use Twitter) are two such words.

Those are the most precious, forced element of the whole Twitter experience, and if you ignore those words it makes everything better.

Lots of dumb "common sense"–type humorists, like the inexplicably employed magazine-writing hack Joel Stein, compare Twitter to CB radio.

And lots of people take smug satisfaction from pointing out that Twitter is a fad, like Friendster, that will soon disappear.

They're right, of course.

But specifically, what's wrong with fads? What's wrong with trying out new things or acting like kids playing dress-up in a full wardrobe?

The thing they don't get is that the next thing, whatever that may be, will build on Twitter. It has changed the way the internet works.

And scoffing at it isn't going to make it go away. The way we talk to each other and tell each other stories is always changing.

(And calm down: Just because we develop new ways to communicate doesn't necessarily make the old ways—theater, books—irrelevant.)

I wrote this story in 140-character chunks on Twitter in two long sittings, in March and in June. It required a different way of writing.

It's a kind of nonfiction poetry, where you can't directly develop a major idea and have to insinuate it, sculpt it with tiny arguments.

(You can read the first draft of this essay at twitter.com/BobbyHayes. The Stranger is at /strangerslog. I post regularly at /paulconstant.)

Learning how to write it was fun. It was play. And there are very few times in life when play is not a good idea.

 

Comments (72) RSS

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1
Each paragraph is 140 characters... Very clever.
Posted by jinushaun on July 1, 2009 at 1:49 PM · Report this
2
Good content, on target, yet every sentence is a paragraph.
Posted by jratkins on July 1, 2009 at 2:15 PM · Report this
3
I just posted a link to this on Twitter
Posted by Jacob Metcalf on July 1, 2009 at 3:35 PM · Report this
4
I'm tweeting a novel on Twitter. It's an eco-themed love story of swaggering genius... you can follow my progress @ecologynovelist
Posted by stevewoods on July 1, 2009 at 4:00 PM · Report this
Love Smoked Salmon 5
Sweet Jeebus the was boring...
Posted by Love Smoked Salmon http://www.tonkaseafoods.com/ on July 1, 2009 at 4:01 PM · Report this
6
I wanted to re-"tweet" every paragraph. Well done.
Posted by ba1L33 on July 1, 2009 at 4:19 PM · Report this
7
Paul--one of the smartest pieces I've ever read in the Stranger, and hey, even one of the sharper explorations/meditations of new media I've read anywhere... you're like a Paul Reps of Twitter, man. Nice work.
Posted by Bob Redmond on July 1, 2009 at 5:08 PM · Report this
8
@4... please email me at bob (at) onereel.org? I'm working on a Twitter event for Bumbershoot 2010, and would love to chat w/ you more. Funny thing is, I tried to pursue this for this year's festival (I curate literary programs there), but the book industry is barely up to speed on Twitter... almost all new titles are just about "how to." More creative approaches a la Paul's news article, Shel Israel's forthcoming novel in Twitter, and your novel are beginning to bubble up... should be interesting.... I daresay that written stories are far, far from dead, even if the traditional novel is now the functional equivalent of monks hand-writing copies in the tower.
Posted by Bob Redmond on July 1, 2009 at 5:19 PM · Report this
Original Monique 9
Nicely done Paul Bobby :)
Posted by Original Monique http://www.facebook.com/notifications.php#/group.php?gid=124801948427 on July 1, 2009 at 5:50 PM · Report this
10
Twitter helped me see how much of a raging douchebag Dan Baum is. And to think I was telling people I liked him. I talked some shit about him after I stopped following him. He noticed almost immediately being the predictably lame 'n vain derby-dipshit that he is, obviously searching his full name across twitter ever five minutes. Doubt it was Google alerts. Too fast. Behold, the power of Twitter.

Twitter has remarkably made me spend money on multiple apps for it. They all do the same thing, as Twitter thankfully remains the same, but I'm never satisfied with the same thing. So I buy new apps that pretty much tell me they don't do anything worth the $5 that the others do. I'm like a retard who watches replays with the hopes of a different outcome.
Posted by Mr. Poe on July 1, 2009 at 6:31 PM · Report this
11
I like what you wrote. Twitter is more than that! Its the first step in human technological evolution toward harmony, peace and productivity. Team-work is now have a whole new meaning. Its a new bridge between each individual and collective mind. Think of countless applications that scientists could use to discover new ways in finding cure for diseases or sharing idea to find an alternative green energy by tapping into this huge collective mind. Perhaps now the information is mostly commercial, but you never know what future holds!
Posted by shorthairstyles http://twitter.com/shorthairstyles on July 2, 2009 at 5:19 AM · Report this
Estey 12
How does Paul Constant kick so much ass? Are there writer's ass kicking pills he has a running prescription for? Good Lord.
Posted by Estey on July 2, 2009 at 7:48 AM · Report this
CJ Alexander 13
Regarding John Mayer, comedians Sean McCarthy and Joe Rogan recently posited that his entire existence: the sensitive songs, how he dresses, the answers he gives in interviews — basically, EVERYTHING about him — is all carefully calibrated to let him get into the pants of the hottest chicks in the world.

And it obviously works pretty well for him.
Posted by CJ Alexander http://www.creatingacomic.com on July 2, 2009 at 10:34 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 14
Excellent writing!

I do like the comparison to CB radio. For those that remember that fad, think of the slang that it created.

Unfortunately, Twitter will eventually be screwed by crooks & liars, as many fun new things are. Someone will discover a way to crash the system, hijack accounts or flood it with so much disinformation as to make it useless. Much like spam has knocked email down several pegs. It will become another medium for the thieves among us to prey upon the unsuspecting masses. Sad, but that is kind of the story of human invention. Metallurgy gave us tools, but also weapons.

Enjoy the fun while it lasts!
Posted by Sir Vic on July 2, 2009 at 10:55 AM · Report this
Violet_DaGrinder 15
Nicely said, Paul.

Except about Mayer. You're totally wrong about Mayer, who is smart and funny and a guitar genius (and a compulsive Twitterer). And you just helped a bunch of my friends laugh at me, and I don't appreciate it. Kthx.

But yeah, my first few tweets were about how dumb I thought Twitter was. And then I started to see how it can be interesting. I think that the haiku comparison is really helpful in understanding why the format is innovative, as far as online social networking stuff goes.
Posted by Violet_DaGrinder http://www.imeem.com/jukeboxmusic51/music/y1malqpG/prince-the-new-power-generation-featuring-eric-leeds-on-f/ on July 2, 2009 at 12:48 PM · Report this
James Gannon 16
Great piece! Best part was realizing half way through that each paragraph was < 140 chars =P
Posted by James Gannon http://www.seattlemusicblog.com on July 2, 2009 at 12:54 PM · Report this
17
I fell asleep halfway through this article.
Posted by e on July 2, 2009 at 2:23 PM · Report this
18
Paul I think you are forgeting the main reason that people dislike Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and fads in general. It's not the concept, or the way it's used- it's the fact that people that use them will not shut the hell up and stop preaching like a bunch of missionaries to the non-converted. I'm not against Twitter, just the babbling idiots that won't talk about anything else.
Posted by LZRSOS on July 2, 2009 at 3:48 PM · Report this
19
Well done. I guess people really are lemmings.
Posted by meso on July 2, 2009 at 4:43 PM · Report this
20
I couldn't care less about "now". I am happy to know something an hour later, or even the next day. I'm just not that impatient.
Posted by mickey on July 2, 2009 at 7:06 PM · Report this
21
how did carriers decide on ~140 characters SMS limit?

wired mag is still interesting.
Posted by toolittletoolate on July 2, 2009 at 9:21 PM · Report this
22
Without Twitter, how would the world have known the instant that Jeff Goldblum had fallen to his death from a cliff in New Zealand? Also, we might never have known that Michael Jackson died, nor that he remains dead to this very moment...
Posted by twitter is for retards on July 2, 2009 at 9:42 PM · Report this
Fnarf 23
The best thing about Twitter is reading the exact same messages on both Twitter and Facebook. I'm still waiting for an interesting one........

The next person who tries to tell me what an important role Twitter played in the Iran revolution is getting a kick in the balls, if they have any.

Flight was unrecognized after ten years, but also hooking yourself up to electricity to cure disease was unrecognized -- and still is, hmm...
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2009 at 11:30 PM · Report this
24
Twitter's ability to pounce on the present moment is singular. Though the wish to capture that moment is, as you suggest, nothing new; it's the purlieus and dream of those big-toothed newscasters. Like 20, I'm happy to read good articles even if they're old...years old. Barring a major event, breathlessness about the now is pretty draining.
Posted by Stacey on July 3, 2009 at 7:42 PM · Report this
25
Tom Scharpling of WFMU fame is writing a novel on his twitter called "Fuel Dump"
Posted by elbiud on July 3, 2009 at 11:17 PM · Report this
26
Um, MySpace, and before that, Facebook, had status updates before Twitter ever came along. And frankly, nothing of consequence can EVER be said in a STATUS UPDATE. Much ado about nothing. This equates to overblogging so much to the point of musing about your bowel movements - no one FUCKING CARES, you self-important jackasses. You REALLY need EVERYONE to know what the fuck you're doing so instantly that you have to use your cellphone to update them?

In short, I'd like to remind everyone of the speech Sam Jackson's character in "The Boondocks," gives on "Nigga Technology." No disrespect.

To the idiot who said peace, productivity, and yada yada will come about because of Twitter... I hope your ass grows around your computer chair and you die of toxic shock. You're obviously not contributing to the world at all. Until that happy time, please stop suckling at the long, steel corporate dick and making impressionable morons the world over buy into such useless, inane crap.
Posted by Z on July 4, 2009 at 1:02 AM · Report this
27
The internet is a vast amount of empty paper space that can be filled with garbage by the average human "writer". However, I never considered the fact that the literary industry is a little behind on the times and people have taken it upon themselves to get their ideas and imaginations out there for the public to read. I hated Twitter at first because I had no interest in what the hell people were thinking or doing all the time. But the parts which show the ingenuity and the ability for people to take the bull by the horns is something to be in awe of. People are taking it upon themselves to get what they want, without the mess and bullshit of dealing with fatcats in highrise buildings with insane salaries. Thanks for the article.
Posted by MPS on July 4, 2009 at 8:22 AM · Report this
28
I really love this article. Of course there's narcissism involved in Twitter; there is in any social networking site. You have to sort through a lot of idiots to find somebody saying something worth saying, but that's how it is in any art form (not that I consider Twitter an art form.)

And speaking of haikus, there's this girl I follow (@haiku_hannah) who writes all her tweets in haiku-form. Very cool.
Posted by Mr. PJR on July 5, 2009 at 3:03 PM · Report this
mojocat 29
Twitter reminds me so much of the Reef from Clive Barker's The Great And Secret Show. That's what brought me there, and the patience to wait for whickers of the hidden divine keep me there.
Posted by mojocat http://twitter.com/mojocat on July 5, 2009 at 3:40 PM · Report this
30
John Mayer won 2 grammies in 2007, and is hardly a one-hit wonder from 2001. More importantly, he's a very tech-savvy musician, and is one of the top 10 twitter users with over 1.5m followers. So Paul Constant seems to have completely misunderstood a self-effacing inside joke from a confirmed twitterholic, which suggests that maybe Constant doesn't "get" a major piece of Twitter's appeal.
Posted by FQ on July 5, 2009 at 3:41 PM · Report this
31
So FQ said part of what i was going to say... John Mayer tweets more that I do if that's even possible. I'm not a fan of his music but I've found myself standing up for him a lot lately, his openness about who he is and what he thinks is awesome, he's one of the few celb. twitteres that I've come to look forward to seeing what they have to say (the others being Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer)
And coming from a music snob the one thing I can say I man not be a fan of the music but i am a fan of the man.
Posted by Addictedtotext on July 5, 2009 at 4:13 PM · Report this
32
So FQ said part of what i was going to say... John Mayer tweets more that I do if that's even possible. I'm not a fan of his music but I've found myself standing up for him a lot lately, his openness about who he is and what he thinks is awesome, he's one of the few celb. twitteres that I've come to look forward to seeing what they have to say (the others being Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer)
And coming from a music snob the one thing I can say I man not be a fan of the music but i am a fan of the man.
Posted by Addictedtotext on July 5, 2009 at 4:17 PM · Report this
33
In some ways this was a clever essay, in others it was dumb and not because it was done in twitter format, although trying to fit everything into the word limit may have amplified the shortcomings.

Paul wrote: "Most people haven't even been on the internet for 10 years yet. Ten years! Every technology is lawless frontier after just 10 years."

Dude, whut? So in 1999 when internet stocks were at an all time high and AOL had over ten million users alone, this counts as an unfamiliar technology.

This hardly compares to the first ten years of airplanes, which were a far more expensive, complex, dangerous and thus slow to penetrate technology.

Television was never a "lawless frontier" technology. It has industry standards and government regulations pretty much from the start. It's development was suspended by WWII, but even if you start on 7/1/1941 - the first day of commercial broadcast in the USA - by 1951 you have the beginnings of sitcoms like I Love Lucy and cop dramas like Racket Squad. It was more than "radio with scenery".

I mean come on - The internet is almost two decades old. We already have a generation which has grown up online. Plus is this really about the internet, or integrated cell phone technology and a variation on Instant Messaging?

The thing about the digital age is that it isn't new, but the changes created by the technology are having a continuous impact on commerce and communication. But frankly, since L33T speak first went mainstream people have known it would change how things work.

Meanwhile the question which Twitter has yet to answer is how to make money.

The question isn't "what if email was invented now?" but "what if email was exceedingly difficult to monetize because it was designed in a way adverse to advertising and fees?"

I suspect the answer will be it will end up being subsidized by companies which do make money from the people who buy their devices and services to use twitter.

Or it will be the next bubble stock. Who knows? We won't as long as columnists don't ask the hard questions.
More...
Posted by then again on July 5, 2009 at 6:31 PM · Report this
cedarthvader 34
I really enjoyed this, Paul. Thanks!
Posted by cedarthvader http://open.salon.com/blog/cedar_burnett on July 6, 2009 at 10:45 AM · Report this
damnable 35
Goddammit, it is disconcerting to have to read in paragraphs that short. Please never do this again. Thanks, however, for the informative/opinionated tweetstyle.
Posted by damnable on July 6, 2009 at 11:12 AM · Report this
36
this is beautiful.
Posted by raffibeardly on July 6, 2009 at 1:03 PM · Report this
37
This was glorious.
Posted by raffibeardly on July 6, 2009 at 1:04 PM · Report this
38
I take offense to "And this is really huge: People communicating to the world at large from a hostile nation on a mass scale! It's unprecedented." I am confused as to how Iran is a "hostile nation". Certainly Iran has had transparency problems and probable fraud in regards to the recent election, but this is hardly a reason to call Iran "hostile". Such irresponsible choices of words by journalists today are part of the reason why American media is looked upon with contempt by the rest of the world.
Posted by JeniLovesCalc on July 6, 2009 at 2:02 PM · Report this
39
I really appreciate this article...

Part of my job is to help newbies find their way around social media... And I get just how overwhelming and disorienting Twitter can be for them. Thoughtful articles like this help them make sense of what it's all about.

Thank you.

Yollana
http:/www.soulbusiness.com.au
Posted by Yollana on July 6, 2009 at 6:28 PM · Report this
40
I've never understood why (except for how obvious the name is) @twitterfiction always makes it into discussions about writing on Twitter. The account has been defunct for over a year. In addition to Thaumatrope though, there are several more *paying* twitter-based publications: @nanoism, @outshine, and @tweetthemeat, as well as active short-form writers like @arjunbasu, @midnightstories, and @instantfiction.

There are actually a bunch of novel writers, though personally, the long stuff is mostly just a pain to keep up with, imho.
Posted by twiction on July 6, 2009 at 9:09 PM · Report this
41
twitter is asinine...

perhaps if all 'tweets' were required to be written in haiku it wouldn't suck so bad...
Posted by Shootingsparks on July 7, 2009 at 2:25 AM · Report this
sophiakristina 42
Thanks for this piece. Like you said, there's something about Twitter that's caused its participants to rethink they way they communicate. We find ways to be more witty, more succinct, more sarcastic, in 140 characters or less. We seek out technology that lets us shorten our URLs and track who clicks on them. It really is about watching how we evolve and how we invent and reinvent the ways we communicate and reconnect with one another.

If anyone's interested, the UW Digital Media Program in the Communications Department is offering a graduate-level class on Twitter. A product of the class will be a Twitter book written by the class. We're moving beyond the standard Twitter 101 book. Here's our class blog: http://twitter09.wordpress.com
Posted by sophiakristina http://sophiakristina.wordpress.com on July 7, 2009 at 9:35 AM · Report this
sophiakristina 43
Z--what you're describing isn't the bulk of what people do on Twitter. Yeah you have people to decide to turn Twitter into their real-time diary, but lots more use it build networks in their field, learn tips and tricks from each other and have conversations that they maybe aren't able to have in person. People have gotten more creative with the "What are you doing?" prompt and have turned it into much more than a play-by-play of their lives.
Posted by sophiakristina http://sophiakristina.wordpress.com on July 7, 2009 at 10:01 AM · Report this
44
Somebody should go tweet by tweet and show how idiotic this piece is.
Posted by max edroom on July 7, 2009 at 11:30 AM · Report this
45
Twitter is a tool. Just like any tool you need to learn how to use it to make it useful to you. If you don't get it, don't worry there are things that you get I won't ever understand.
Posted by @nurbernhardt on July 7, 2009 at 1:16 PM · Report this
46
I tried to read this article in the print version, and gave up about 1/3rd the way in... the twit-style writing convention was like reading someone with ADD. Or watching an frenetic infomercial on meth. Don't know if I'll try again. Good luck.
Posted by Need to read longer thoughts. on July 7, 2009 at 2:31 PM · Report this
47
And again, Sophia, MySpace and Facebook did it already, and BETTER. Twitter all still comes back to 140 character status updates, and it's not only useless, it's redundant. Meet people you wouldn't otherwise meet? Why thank you MySpace. All I have to do is use my zip code and you give me pages of people in my area? That's nearly genius! Share my thoughts? Why thank you Facebook, for your "notes," and thank you INTERNET, for your MANY weblog sites. You mean there aren't even any word or character limits in the format I'll be using? Good gosh! Find a way to shorten URLS? What the fuck Twitter?! You mean, after I find the relevant information on a specific page on the correct website, that I still have to go find ANOTHER place to find a way to SHORTEN that URL? Fuck off Twitter, and same to all your self-important Twits.

And I think what you are trying to tell me is that the correct answer to "What are you up to?" can actually be anything other than, "Well, I'm on my cellphone while the real world is going on around me, so... not a GODDAMNED thing." In which case, you are obviously wrong. Also, please send me a list of anybody who actually signs up for that Twitter class, so that for future reference we can all remember that they have zero credibility in anything they do, ever. Which, since they're taking a class on Twitter, will probably not be much of anything but building their thumb muscles and already bloated conceit.

With the proponents of Twitter already waving their This-isn't-a-fad-it's-a-revolution-and-I'm-actually-relevant flags furiously, it's clear that they simply won't LET Twitter die. But for everyone else, it's superfluous jabber. Incidentally, anyone trying to say Twitter played ANY role in the Iran revolution is henceforth banned from having opinions. Get off your cellphone and look for yourself! Iranians have known how "bad" Iran was for years, even the American BORN ones.
More...
Posted by Z on July 7, 2009 at 8:16 PM · Report this
48
Paul: A+ for clever. D for quality of analysis. Like Twitter itself, you go for style and novelty and forget that no technology is more important than the content it conveys. You spent two months crafting a clever approach that is internally inconsistent and rife with glib but unsupportable truisms.
Posted by Prof. Strangelove on July 8, 2009 at 3:04 AM · Report this
49
Here's the big naked sumo wrestler in the corner no one wants to look at or think about: No way to make money from it. That means the tweetpeople at twitcentral will eventually run out of OPM and either stop doing it or start charging for it - perhaps just commercial accounts from people who want to tweet ads or perhaps subscriptions for all. As soon as the sumo asks for money, that big ole twit nation will just melt away and start snuffing after the next most important thing that will change everything the whole world in every way right now today but isn't worth anything at all if you actually have to pay the bill.
Posted by Sally on July 8, 2009 at 3:16 AM · Report this
50
So you spent like two months writing this and the Stranger paid you $15 for it.

All this social networking and new media stuff is really important and cool as as long as the trust fund holds out or you can make enough lattes to cover the rent...
Posted by call me a cynic but I'm not the only one on July 8, 2009 at 3:24 AM · Report this
51
My granny invented Twitter. She called it a party line.
The technology is new. Human nature is not.
Posted by cc on July 8, 2009 at 3:27 AM · Report this
52
I like what you wrote. Twitter is more than that! Its the first step in human technological evolution toward harmony, peace and productivity. Team-work is now have a whole new meaning. Its a new bridge between each individual and collective mind. Think of countless applications that scientists could use to discover new ways in finding cure for diseases or sharing idea to find an alternative green energy by tapping into this huge collective mind. Perhaps now the information is mostly commercial, but you never know what future holds!

Dontcha just want to hunt down this geek and give him an atomic wedgie? Seriously, dude, turn off the SciFi channel and go outside and look around some time.
Posted by violence green is my mistress on July 8, 2009 at 3:34 AM · Report this
53
I quit reading after the 10th paragraph because your writing fucking sucks. Hopefully, you have a little more talent when given the option of increasing your character count.

Fuck Twitter. Fuck Facebook. Fuck MySpace. Fuck fucking text messaging. Get the fuck out of your houses and go talk to some real fucking people.
Posted by smitty on July 8, 2009 at 11:02 AM · Report this
54
@53 - people on the internet ARE real people. The fact that it's so easy for you to forget that and see them as a nameless, faceless mob says more about you than social networking says about the people (yes, individual people) who use it.

Love what you wrote, Mr. Constant. Naysayers amaze me sometimes. Someone can tell them "Look what I got out of this! Here's 10 reasons why this works!" or "Here's why this is useful!" And there will be people who ignore that and will continue to call it pointless even AFTER you've shown them otherwise. There are always excuses.

People, if you don't want to use something, don't use it. But don't presume to speak for everyone who does. Clearly there are people who don't share your opinion. Suck it up and deal with it. And don't be bitter because millions of people are in on something that you're not a part of.
Posted by Teresa Jusino http://revolvingdoorcommune.wordpress.com on July 8, 2009 at 2:12 PM · Report this
55
To Paul Constant,

It should be of no surprise to you, or the others that keep bringing this up, that Twittering on Iran and swine flu "never went above 5%" as opposed to the 15% of Twitter blogging on Michael Jackson - whats more popular: the Middle Eastern politics of a member of the Axis of Evil and a pig illness or the King of Pop, and all other antics of cult celebrity?

The U.S often breeds insensitive children and hatred towards the Middle East. Then when these children act out what they are taught, they are scolded and dismissed as silly "Tweeple."

Many people in the U.S have no clue where Iran is on the world map - I know I have asked - or even that Iranians or Persians, as they refer to themselves, are not even Arab.

Why on earth would they Twitter about Iran?
Posted by thinking on July 8, 2009 at 8:47 PM · Report this
56
To Paul Constant,

It should be of no surprise to you, or the others that keep bringing this up, that Twittering on Iran and swine flu "never went above 5%" as opposed to the 15% of Twitter blogging on Michael Jackson - whats more popular: the Middle Eastern politics of a member of the Axis of Evil and a pig illness or the King of Pop, and all other antics of cult celebrity?

The U.S often breeds insensitive children and hatred towards the Middle East. Then when these children act out what they are taught, they are scolded and dismissed as silly "Tweeple."

Many people in the U.S have no clue where Iran is on the world map - I know, I have asked - or even that Iranians or Persians, as they refer to themselves, are not even Arab.

Why on earth would they Twitter about Iran?

P.S: You sound really naieve, Paul Constant.
Posted by thinking on July 8, 2009 at 8:51 PM · Report this
BombasticMO 57
This was cute.
Posted by BombasticMO http://www.BombasticMo.com on July 9, 2009 at 11:10 AM · Report this
58
@56 - Apparently, they can't spell either. The word is "naive," not "naieve." A bad pop culture reference helps here: Naive is Evian (as in the over priced bottled water) spelled backward, or so says one of the characters in the 1994 movie: Reality Bites.

For fuck's sake, will the naysayers just drop the defensiveness for just one second and consider the meaning of the article, the implications of twitter. Regardless of what you think of twitter, rejecting something outiright--I'm talking about the article here--and lobbing attacks does not equate w/ critical thinking it just renders any decent conversation flaccid and useless. The complaints and insults posted here say more about the posters than the actual article (draw your own conclusions). Fortunately though, thanks to the nature of this medium, I can skip over all that bullshit, and that leads me to my point.

I've never used twitter. Although I've been reading slog and listening to radio accounts about the election and protests in Iran, I don't even think I know what Twitter is (Internet posting and surfing via cell phone?) but reading Constant's article was an interesting way to learn about the way I pay attention and process information. At first I liked it. It was like a meal of appetizers. Nicely distilled concise bits of information. Then at some point, the peice seemed long and I found myself scrolling to the end to see how much longer it went on. Not because there was anything wrong w/ Constant's writing. In my humble opinion he writes well. I did finish the piece and liked it (more on that later) but I wasn't used to the rhythym.

I had a similar experience w/ a story in the June or July issue of the Sun Magazine comprised of Craig's List postings in bigger chunks than Constant's article (The Sun a literary magazine, known for being depressing, that's accessible for non-literary types like me). I found it really fatiguing to read and I haven't figured out exactly why yet. I wonder if it has to do with the constant subject shifting, like the fast-paced images in action movies.

This line really got to me: "It's a kind of nonfiction poetry, where you can't directly develop a major idea and have to insinuate it, sculpt it with tiny arguments."
As an art school graduate, my mind partly took a literal turn w/ visions of tiny sculpture guantlets. Okay, that's my thing and probably it's too weird for anyone else to relate to. Nevertheless, I think a lot about how the workaday world shapes expression. Aside from people w/ trust funds or excessive brilliance, most of have to work just to survive--really work, more than 40 hours a week. We have less time, space and energy to say what we need or want to so our brains are adapting. Some people might say our attention spans are shrinking--I would be one--but maybe that's not exactly correct. Maybe our expressive content is becoming denser, smaller and more complete unto itself? Maybe Twitter reflects and generates (bad verb but it's all I got right now) that adapatation?

"So, like any ape observing any tool, we must ask: What can Twitter do for me? Why should I care and not just carelessly discard it?"
To the naysayers, try asking and actually answering these questions for yourselves and see what happens. Do you really need to keep crapping the same crap onto other people (which basically amounts to variations on theme: you suck) w/ your posts?
More...
Posted by know-it-all on July 12, 2009 at 11:30 AM · Report this
josh 59
I think that this is a fascinating performance piece about the strengths and limitations of the 140-character format and the ephemerality of the medium. Taken individually, and floating on the surface of a stream of thoughts, each of these paragraphs might seem profound. In print, or in collection, many of them beg for falsification, argument, and further discourse.
Posted by josh http://www.sciencevsromance.net on July 13, 2009 at 8:50 AM · Report this
Daviticus 60
People, Twitter is a website, a tool for communication, nothing more. It's not the Savior, it's not the Antichrist. It just is.
Posted by Daviticus on July 13, 2009 at 12:35 PM · Report this
61
Guys, being a smug prick about how much you hate Twitter is just as bad as being a smug prick about how much you love Twitter.
Posted by Guys on July 13, 2009 at 3:49 PM · Report this
JeanineA 62
Yeah, what Josh said @ #60 re being seeds to further substance & discourse. But I also like performance art, so: good job to Paul for that.
Posted by JeanineA on July 14, 2009 at 11:31 PM · Report this
63
hard to read in that format, because the line width is too long. Us humans can generally read 78 characters per line
Posted by hawken king on July 14, 2009 at 11:56 PM · Report this
64
I think this article is neatly illustrates one of the main problems with Twitter: Twitter is not suited for more than 140 characters at a time. The author had to put this article on a separate webpage in order for it to be readable. Otherwise, if he had simply linked to (or even better, design-wise: shown screencaps of) his twitter feed, not only would the jerkiness of each "paragraph" being just one sentence be amplified, but there would be all kinds of "@so-and-so: Hey, want to go get a beer later?" and "RT@so-and-so [insert bitly link here]" posts which further disrupt any possible flow.
Posted by joemi on July 15, 2009 at 1:08 AM · Report this
Posted by josh http://www.sciencevsromance.net on July 18, 2009 at 3:38 PM · Report this
66
>> Here's another truth: Nobody has any clue what's going on. That's why sneering at Twitter is worse than blindly loving Twitter.

FIXED: Paul Constant has no clue what's going on. That's why it gives him comfort to think no one else does either.

>> I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that much of this recession—media tanking and entertainment choking to death—is because of the net.

FIXED: I'm not an economist, but I'll just shout out an uninformed and borderline stupid anecdotal belief without justification because hey, wtf that's what twitter is all about anyway.

Functionally, twitter is nothing more than a rehash of IRC for mass consumption. It will be dead in another year or two and overtaken by something even less useful. It's a reboot of the blogosphere bubble chamber popularity contest that resulted in the top 3% killing all conversation. And eventually the next generation of attention whores will create some other look@me tool so they can have their chance to overcome the top 3% on twitter.

P.S. Google didn't kill your newspaper. Newsroom hacks who refused to embrace any semblance of change to their workflow in combination with publishers intent on maintaining absurdly high profit margins and employed fiscally unsound debt management practices to achieve them did it all on their own. Please quit whining about google.
Posted by Not2Sure on July 19, 2009 at 1:36 AM · Report this
67
It looks great.love it very much
Posted by diecasting on July 21, 2009 at 8:09 PM · Report this
68
Loved the article, Paul. I actually learned to look at Twitter in a new, less snarky and reactionary way. I won't get it (already have Facebook; I'm limiting myself to one social networking site at a time), but I understand it the appeal. And your comments about the 140 character limit on Twitter reminded me of my first experience with Internet communication way back in'98, the AOL chatroom, where I had an enjoyable time curbing my natural verbosity and condensing my ideas into a single sentence or phrase in order to keep the conversation flowing.
Posted by semper fidelis on July 26, 2009 at 9:56 PM · Report this
Knat 69
By the end of this article, I had lost count of the number of banal and insipid aspects of Twitter being put on some sort of pseudo-techy pedestal. Not to mention the ridiculous platitudes that--given the 140 character limit--came across as just inflammatory for its own sake. Science is built on vanity? Science? FUCK. YOU. I can't convey (especially in only 140 characters) how condescending and ridiculous that statement is. Before that line, I was willing to read this to hear what you had to say about this obnoxious, ADD-inflicting, strident tool of the now. I was willing to let that prejudice die if you could convince me that this is anything but the newest awful trend of an increasingly self- and celebrity-obsessed culture. But that line perfectly encapsulated all the issues I have with Twitter: any stupid, uninformed moron can make uninformed, baseless statements and have it go out to masses of people instantly. I cannot wait for this flash-in-the-pan garbage to fall by the wayside so I can have full conversations with friends, without them interrupting me to read off their iPhone what odd musing Kevin Rose just sent out.
Posted by Knat on July 31, 2009 at 6:53 PM · Report this
lizacious 70
I think Twitter does a good job of bringing technology and the "real" world together, much better than email or even facebook. That said, I don't Tweet. I want to separate "real" from electronic. But clearly it's interesting - good that we're seeing more easily how interconnected we are, and we are having, not quite visceral, but at least tangible, evidence of a collective consciousness.
Posted by lizacious on August 5, 2009 at 3:18 PM · Report this
Coggie 71
Twitter as an art form, taking the ordinary and giving it cachet... good job, dude.
Posted by Coggie http://milkineggs.blogspot.com/ on August 9, 2009 at 4:50 PM · Report this
72

Sand casting, the most widely used casting process, utilizes expendable sand molds to form complex metal parts that can be made of nearly any alloy. Because the sand mold must be destroyed in order to remove the part, called the casting, sand casting typically has a low production rate. The sand casting process involves the use of a furnace, metal, pattern, and sand mold.

Posted by sandcasting on December 9, 2009 at 11:30 PM · Report this

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