NYTimes Columnist Proves That Among Billions Of Tweets Some People Say Stuff You Don't Care About

from the hot-damn dept

Recently, among the “oversharers” online, I saw a few people link to a column by NYTimes’ columnist Roger Cohen, using one of the hackiest of all the “old curmudgeon” hack columns around: bitching about the banal stuff people talk about on Twitter. It’s been done hundreds of times, and it’s mostly been done better than Cohen’s weak attempt. And, of course, it’s easy to take such things out of context. The most common complaint that people make: people sharing info about their lunch, with the obvious presumption that no one could possibly care about what someone’s eating for lunch. And yet… context matters greatly. Just as an example, one of the things that made me once realize how useful Twitter was in the early days, was when I saw someone I knew only via the internet, mention that he was eating lunch at a restaurant that I really liked in another city. Combined with the fact that I was going to be in that city the following week, we arranged to meet for lunch the following week at the same place. That “banal and useless” oversharing of info actually resulted in something quite useful: tidbits of information leading to a personal connection.

Separately, as I (and tons of others) have suggested in the past, if you find the people you follow say banal and silly things, follow better, more interesting people. And yet, as came out about a week after Cohen’s silly column was published, it wasn’t even a case of Cohen following silly and banal people. It turns out that, while he implied he was following such people on Twitter, in reality, he went searching for silly and banal tweets… and found them on a site that shares exactly that kind of info. Here’s what his original column said:

Now I was determined to get through 2012 without doing a peevish column, not wishing to appear cantankerous or curmudgeonly, determined to be sunny and youthful as the times demand, but everyone has a tipping point. Mine occurred when I came across this tweet from Claire:

“Have such a volcanically deep zit laying roots in my chin that it feels like someone hit me with a right cross.”

Good to know, Claire.

I was just recovering from that when I found Deanna tweeting that she had “picked up pet food” and was heading to “the dreaded consult on colon stuff. The joys of turning 50.” As for Kate she let the world know the status of her labor: “Contractions 3 minutes apart and dilated at 2 cm.”

Social media does not mean that you have to be that social.

Except… apparently Cohen’s “tipping point” did not actually come when he “came across” those tweets. That’s because the second “tweet” was not actually a “tweet” and did not even happen in 2012 (or 2011 for that matter). The first was actually a tweet, but also did not occur in 2012 or 2011. And these weren’t something that he just randomly “came across,” but rather something he went looking for. You see, the NYT appended the following editor’s note:

In this column, the author suggested that he was moved to talk about over-sharing and anxiety online after he came across two comments on Twitter. In fact, both comments were taken from a Web site, www.oversharers.com, that the writer consulted as part of his research. One of the comments, from Claire, was from a Twitter feed; the other, from Deanna, was from Facebook. They were both written in 2010. The writer should not have implied he stumbled across them while reading recent Twitter feeds.

In other words, this esteemed NYT columnist has proven that among the billions upon billions of tweets and Facebook status updates out there, if you go searching, you might possibly be able to find two (well, one tweet and one Facebook status update) in which someone says something that a person totally unconnected to them might find uninteresting. Perhaps we can soon expect one of the NYT’s famed trend pieces, about how aging NYT columnists are now resorting to hacky, overdone premises, in which they misrepresent reality to try to make a point that doesn’t really make much sense.

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Comments on “NYTimes Columnist Proves That Among Billions Of Tweets Some People Say Stuff You Don't Care About”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The internet is like a beach where you can find dirt, rare jewels, and everyday banal happenings in folks life. Someone is bound to tell you about the booger they found, if you are fool enough to pay attention.

It is up to you the user to find the interesting and dump the trash you aren’t interested in. If you can’t do that, you need the kiddy filters to help you make sense of the net, as it is obviously taxing your capabilities.

Not That Chris (profile) says:

Why leave it?

I guess my question to the NYT would be why even leave the article up? It’s not like there was a mistake in reporting on the story or some fact slip up, or that the story was super relevant to anything going on. It was a fluff piece that was, for all intents and purposes, totally made up. Dump it. Especially if they knew in advance and posted it anyway.

I hope if they paid Cohen for the piece they politely (and forcefully) asked for their money back.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Why leave it?

Taking it down would be a mistake. Be transparent, don’t hide your dirty laundry. They did the right thing after discovering the issues with the story – leave it up and let people know it was a bunch of crap (although they could have used stronger language).

Taking it down would not help. It is the internet and they cannot really get rid of it. So, taking it down would probably be a PR nightmare.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think that if I was a relative of Kate’s, I would be very interested in the status of her labor. There were probably a number of people who love Kate hanging on her tweets. Twitter was a very efficient way to help her family get involved in the birth.

Twitter is more than people typing witty epigrams to impress strangers.

Andrew F (profile) says:


Mike, the real risk isn’t you reading about someone eating lunch at a restaurant you really like — it about that tweet getting lost among the hundreds of random tweets about … whatever you find irrelevant.

Filtering problem. We have tons of information and that’s a good thing — the value-add now for social networks is filtering out the irrelevant bits.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:



Also friends and family talk stupid meaningless crap all the time. What’s said is often not as important of the act of saying and listening to it. It’s a means of re-enforcing social bonds, monkeys groom each other we engage in small talk.

What’s happened is that social media has abstracted that small talk some what. People post crap and other people read it, it’s not exactly the same engagement as talking to each other in the same way but it has some of the same function.

So yes lots of it’s meaningless crap but it’s just the base level noise of our social bonding, a short broadcast to those we care about that we are here and maybe a little feedback that people are there.

It only get’s silly when you have endless people you don’t really know on your facebook or if you are attempting to use them as a public platform rather than a social tool.

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