Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Twitter and social media

 Last year, Franzen made a splash with his comments on Twitter. There was a huge backlash. And most of these attacks, a lot on Twitter, seemed to be focused on mocking him personally. Some claimed that he didn't get it, or was too old. No one focused on either giving the man a lesson on using Twitter (if there was one to be had), or refuting the specific words he spoke against the medium (one that only 5% of the world uses). Though part of Franzen's rant, at times, seemed to take on the Internet as a whole, he did want to talk about better discussions in general. (note, I don't agree with most of what he said or his viewpoints; neither do I agree with the reaction dished out at him).

I will say this: though Twitter, and other social media outlets, make it easier to find people with similar tastes, or to find important sources of information, they also lead to what can only be called a mob mentality. I will explain more later, but this ability to rally the forces isn't always bad (ostensibly it allowed a revolution to occur in some parts of the world and has pushed governments towards positive action in others), especially if you look at it through the lens of people power. But is this always right? And, more importantly, does it allow for in depth discussions (something Franzen was leaning towards, I assume)?

As I mentioned above, someone who is so inclined, can easily use their Twitter feed to find links to many interesting topics. And the 140 character limit has many positives, the main one being brevity; it cuts off the long-winded, and it allows for quick and easy communications across networks (it's a breeze to read through a feed). But what it also allows, unfortunately, is a certain amount of unspoken language, as is needed in any brief statement. That leads to a higher level of tribalism [1]

For example, when someone has to say something it will be better to say it to (and be read by) those who have the same viewpoint. Thus any utterance would be differently received by liberals versus conservatives. This need to find a tribe—and to find a tribe with the same context as you, thereby maximizing your comfort when tweeting, as well as maximizing the ability to say more with 140 characters—exists. It exists and can be a very strong collecting factor when it comes to social media like Twitter. That's not all bad, as looking for people with similar tastes is a huge reason to use social media.

Nevertheless, this shift towards tribalism is also a huge reason that the mob effect is strong. Everyone is trying to say to be concise, pulling from their mutual viewpoints. This allows for the same people to herd and rush forward as a mob. We saw this recently in the shift to silence and not engage in proper dialogue. I’m not saying that before Twitter mob mentality did not exist, or that there was some golden age of discussions. But it is easier for the virtual mob to work.

Nevertheless, isn’t outrage for good things (another part of the democratizing effect that social media speaks to) a positive phenomenon? And as I mentioned earlier, the ability to gain feeds from multiple news sources and people (hopefully to include those that one doesn't agree with) is not to be mocked. It’s powerful. And the links which lead to more in-depth articles than the original 140 character are not to be mocked either.

So, Franzen, I see your point, but I dare say that you need to engage Twitter and people more. You can create a section of Twitter that’s free of inane tweets. There are plenty of places that do provide intelligent discourse, you can always add to that. And as for me? I’ll keep trying to improve and engage others on this medium.

Disagree with me? What to give me hell? Do it on Twitter. My handle below:

[1] I admit, I have nothing but anecdotal information for this. 

Thanks for reading. As always, you can contact me at nlowhim@gmail.com if you have any questions or wish to discuss something. Look forward to hearing from you.

Some other articles that are related to the subject matter here.
# How to read the news today (relevant because even an article like this must be read with an eye towards history)
# An article about Drone Warfare today.
# An article about the fatwa on Rushdie

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  1. Yeah, I'm not sure why there are people out there who are Americans and think it's okay to shut someone up. Everyone seems to do it because it's the easy choice and no one wants to confront the very real issues. Today the giant issue is the militarization of the police. It's very much about looks not substance. It's very bad to have police looking a certain way, but what about the reasons for how they act?

  2. Better yet, why not create something on the internet that can rival twitter. It isn't, in my humble opinion, the best way (nor is facebook) to mimic human networks and interactions. Never has been and never will. Not in the form it's in. But what form will work the best? That, my friend is absolutely open to someone to create.

  3. I want to see this happen, see this created. Just because something has the potential to be used for something good or deep, doesn't mean that it will. It doesn't mean much at all. People will still use it for crap. maybe once it becomes more of an established medium will the sensitive (and this doesn't count those marketeers who are selling themselves and their wares and the things that won't matter in a decade) use it for great art. onl then. And as for Franzen, I'm not sure that he's an important figure. Only some of those Newyork types like him, and that's only because he's as snooty and stuck up and WASPy as they.


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