A disturbing trend has emerged recently. Lots of young people hear about some new article, read it, and live-tweet their reactions to it. The practice drives me nuts, but I think it brings up some broader points about how society uses Twitter.
This latest habit (I hesitate to use the overused word “trend”) has emerged over the last year. I’ve noticed it acutely with three articles in particular. “Getting Bin Laden” by Nicholas Schmidle (New Yorker), “The Shame of College Sports” by Taylor Branch (The Atlantic), and “The Obama Memos” by Ryan Lizza (New Yorker). In each case, I saw groups of people (including, but not limited to, journalists) live-tweet their observations and favorite quotes from each piece.
Live-tweeting simply isn’t effective while reading. Each of these three articles is lengthy, complex and delivers an involved argument. Picking out one quote or observation in the middle of it nearly always misses the broader argument of the piece. I want to hear what other people think of these pieces, but the most valuable service journalists offer is analysis and careful consideration of the arguments. That simply isn’t possible on Twitter, in 140 characters, while trying to read something.
In 99 cases out of 100, the Twitter user would benefit from taking a step back and writing a blog post when they finished reading the story.
Now, this is not to suggest that live-tweeting itself is bad. To the contrary, I think it’s wonderful when used properly. At press conferences or when following breaking news, for example. In those cases, live-tweeting is the fastest, most effective way of getting news and instantaneous reactions (which are most often accurate).
This brings up several larger arguments about Twitter. In my mind, the service does three things really well: 1) It allows users to rapidly scan various services for information, 2) It allows users to share links to other content their followers might be interested in and 3) It allows information to spread much more quickly than any other existing technology. Beyond that, it breaks down.
Observations shared on Twitter are rarely insightful and, at best, simplistic. After all, who can fully share their thoughts in 140 characters? Even the best writer has to condense and oversimplify their arguments to fit within that space constraint. So, I see Twitter as an ideal location for information sharing and a horrendous spot for sharing opinions and observations.
So stop live-tweeting as you read other literature. Write a blog post when you’ve finished and had time to digest it. Tweet me a link. I’ll gladly read it then.