NY Times Editor Claims Twitter Killing Conversation, While His Tweets Spawn Conversation
from the compartmentalism-in-140-characters dept
There’s been some buzz about NYTimes Editor Bill Keller’s recent column, in which — in true curmudgeon fashion — he posits that Twitter and such are a problem because they are killing deep conversation:
As a kind of masochistic experiment, the other day I tweeted “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” It produced a few flashes of wit (“Give a little credit to our public schools!”); a couple of earnestly obvious points (“Depends who you follow”); some understandable speculation that my account had been hacked by a troll; a message from my wife (“I don’t know if Twitter makes you stupid, but it’s making you late for dinner. Come home!”); and an awful lot of nyah-nyah-nyah (“Um, wrong.” “Nuh-uh!!”). Almost everyone who had anything profound to say in response to my little provocation chose to say it outside Twitter. In an actual discussion, the marshaling of information is cumulative, complication is acknowledged, sometimes persuasion occurs. In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others’ opinions are stunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid.
He then compares this to claims heard in yesteryear about how calculators meant people weren’t good at doing math in their head any more, and how future generations with their brains and retinal displays jacked directly into the network would make people bad at remembering stuff. We’ve heard such claims before, but I think it misses the point. Yes, it’s important for people to be able to understand the basic building blocks of things like mathematics, but is it really such a horrible thing if you can free up that part of your brain and let it work on other tasks?
As for the claims about the lack of deep conversations on Twitter, I think that’s unnecessarily compartmentalizing communication. Twitter isn’t designed for deep conversations, so asking it to do deep conversations and mocking it for not doing so seems sort of silly, doesn’t it? And, yet, I know first hand that short bursts of conversations on Twitter have resulted in much deeper conversations outside of Twitter for me, as well as all sorts of connections to people and conversations I never would have had otherwise. That those didn’t all happen directly on Twitter seems entirely besides the point. In many cases they happened because of Twitter, and that seems a lot more interesting and powerful than worrying about how some people sound “stupid” on Twitter. Some people sound stupid off Twitter too. Perhaps the problem isn’t Twitter.