Friday, July 31, 2009

No, I don't "Tweet"

Here's another in a series of posts that will almost certainly offend some of my readers. I apologize up front, but I stand by my premise...

Yes, I am something of a Luddite, but that doesn't mean I'm completely nuts. Lately I am starting to think certain uses of technology are simply a bad idea. Consider:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Power Point in the school
All of these suffer from a single major issue: they encourage tiny thinking.

Yes, I know that Twitter has become a major news source, and yes that's a good thing. It may even be a democratizing influence, but all kinds of technologies with a few good uses suffer from huge drawbacks. I'm not going to make a list by way of example. If you can't come up with a few genies that did both harm and good when let out of the bottle you're not trying.

Put plainly, Twitter actively discourages complex thought. Far too many Americans can't string even a few words together. If the current generation grows up communicating in ultra compressed text snippets I really don't want to think about where we'll be. I am certain I won't like it though.

Facebook looked interesting to me after I started using it, and there are a lot of people I simply don't see that often. Our hectic lifestyles mean I'd never know what they are up to without Facebook or something like it. Lately, though, I've encountered something I don't like: people are mirroring their incomprehensible twitter feeds into their Facebook status updates.

Maybe I'd understand them if I did nothing but follow Twitter and/or their lives in depth, but I have a wife, a job, dogs to take care of, and things to to in the real world. Trying to understand these cryptic messages typed in on phone keyboards from the middle of nowhere isn't going down well with me. In truth I could probably ignore those - possibly by disabling the feeds from the guilty - but there's a related trend, and it's just as disturbing: short, pointless, repeated Facebook status messages.

How often do I need to know that someone is tired, or is going to bed? The minutia of daily life is just that: minutia. Tell me about the important things - or even the semi important things. Did you get a new job? A new house? Get engaged or divorced? Celebrating something important or had an epiphany of some sort? Great! Share away. Tell me about your kids, the things that made you whoop for joy or scream in despair. I'm fine with all that, and I will whoop or cry with you. I'll even do my best to support you when you're down. Just please don't use the vast resources of the Internet to tell me you're home from work.

Years ago I heard a story on the radio about a pathological diarist. He documented every little thing in his life: what he had for lunch, at what time, where he sat while he was eating it, what he was going to next (after updating his diary), and so on. As I recall he was in his 40s or 50s and his diary was many, many books, all full of hand written, pointless drivel about nothing. I pitied the guy, and I suspect that vast diary will be thrown in the trash when he dies. No one is going to care, and all that effort is wasted.

I feel somewhat similar about people I know telling me (and all their other Facebook friends) they had green beans with dinner. Part of what causes these kinds of status updates - besides most of us (myself included!) having nothing important, relevant, or useful to say the vast majority of the time - is that the silly status box is so small. Facebook doesn't limit you to a tiny comment like Twitter, but the interface encourages it, and recent design changes at Facebook indicate they're moving farther in that direction. Yet again a powerful tool is helping make all of us - or at least its users - less capable of complex thought.

I must admit I've posted pointless status updates myself many times, but I am trying to stop it now. Actively working at it. Feel free to tell me this blog post qualifies as the same kind of inane babble, but at least I am trying to address a complex topic - something I care about - and am doing so in whole paragraphs, with real thought behind them. (Or the closest analog to real thought I can achieve.)

The last item on my list - Power Point use in schools - is just as bad, and just as dangerous to the future. An entire generation is growing up thinking that the best possible communication path is animated bullet points that slide into place on a screen with sound effects. "The Panama Canal is in South America. Click! Ships go through it. Click! The US helped build it. Click! And that's my presentation. Can I get my 'A' now? No? But I wrote the right number of bullet points and I had pictures and everything!"

How many avid readers do you know? How many of them are kids?

What about writing? Does anyone you know write more than a hundred characters with regularity? Probably not.

Nothing encourages thoughtful, intelligent communication anymore, and the technologies listed here are radically changing the way we communicate whether we like it or not. I am not optimistic about the direction of that change.


  1. AWESOME POST, dude! Probably one of my favorites this week!

    I've been enjoying writing my own blog so much, because it actually gives me a chance to think/write OUTSIDE of bullet point format. I to that at work all day!

    Though, I do have to say the example of the PPT you used is a common MISUSE of PowerPoint. PPT are meant to be short and sparse because they should be emphasis and organizing structure to your talking points. As a presenter, you'd BETTER have more information to share with your audience than a 6-word bullet, or else your presence has little value.

    Great articulation!

  2. I believe I know a little something about stringing together a lot of words so as to explain complex topics. It's highly over-rated.

    I think I'll go tweet about this blog post of yours, Jeff. :)

  3. Yea for you....I too am tired of reading such inane pieces of their daily lives...minutia i can live without. I am trying to do the same with Facebook....get info on how friends are doing, maintain some contact and yet not feeling everyone needs to know what time O went out to water the lawn! Go Jeff! I still miss you. Am teaching the lonline class again. Meet with them for 4 Saturdays of skills testing and two days of paper testing and pffft (sp?) it is done!


  4. Hey, Jeff. I agree with Jomama that the short form is being misused in your examples. There is a high degree of intellect and work that goes into GOOD haiku, GOOD headlines, GOOD punchlines and even GOOD vanity plates. The same is true of blogs, tweets and presentations.

    It's not the tool that matters. It's the person who wields the tool. In other words, puns don't kill people; people kill people with puns.

  5. Green beans for dinner, not worth noting, unless it's the first crop of the year, and then only the gardeners would care. Haricots verts with red wine reduction and herbs, interesting to the foodies. Gift of bacon-chocolate and whether to admit it arrived in the house unopened or not...of interest only to its intended recipient.

    So much lies in knowing your audience.

  6. Thea bromine (auntie to u)August 5, 2009 at 4:43 PM

    so did the aforementioned gift actually survive sampling by the intended recipient or did some unscrupulous two-leg fight off the four-leg for it then wolfe it? that is why we check your blog.

  7. Gift arrived intact as far as I know. I've only been around to see it for about 3 conscious minutes far, and thus it is still unopened.

    That said, it is always possible that there was originally more to it and some of the other creatures in the house reduced it to what remains without my knowledge... :)

  8. (Clearly way behind on reading friends' blogs.)


    Must respectfully disagree on the apparent premise of the post (and ditto DJHowatt), which is that the tool is to blame rather than the tool wielder.

    I find Twitter's (and less so FB's Status Update) limitations to be quite useful in forcing me to—at the very least—be curt, if not brief. If we were to treat social networking tools such as Twitter and FB like a virtual party (or perhaps more aptly, virtual party lines), then tweets are just like off-the-cuff remarks, and a blog post is more like someone holding forth in an extended monolog. Just like any party, there are any number of stupid, off-the-cuff remarks (e.g. "I'm so drunk"), and I fully admit to having been a wordy blowhard myself on more than one social occasion.

    As for the "pointless" FB statuses, forwarded from Twitter or otherwise, I wonder if you aren't giving these *short* messages the same weight as a fully formed blog post. In my mind, tweets and their cousins are (besides being off-the-cuff) more like what everyone actually says and thinks a good deal of the time. And at least for me, these "pointless" messages are what lets me know that someone is having a life (as opposed to "having a Life"). In this, they are no more (or less) "pointless" than a typical "how's it going?" conversation with a co-worker, neighbor, or friend that you see at some regular gathering. The subject matter might be of little relevance, but the act of social contact helps to maintain a certain level of connectivity.

    As for "major life events", those will get announced in whichever medium is most handy to the sender, and there will be hints, if not outright boasts (at least of the happy occasions), of those events in someone's timeline. (If I first hear about a birth via Twitter or the like, I've either been out of touch for quite a while or I've been a rather inattentive friend.)

    It is perhaps worth noting that living in Europe and having most of my Twitter and FB friends be in the States mean that I probably attach more importance to social networking tools that help me maintain contact. However, it is also worth noting that I've been on multiple, low-traffic mailing lists since before moving here, with mostly or entirely US based membership. And despite the social nature of these lists, I find that I'm more "in touch" with list members that are also on Twitter and/or FB, both in getting as well as sending updates.

    Regarding the annoyance of forwarding tweets to FB, this is both an act of laziness as well as a temporary kludge until there is some sort of open standard for aggregating short messages and responses. The variety of response possibility on FB is richer, but I have to be logged into FB via a data connection. Whereas, I can enable Twitter on any cell phone that supports SMS, and at least read all the messages if not always have access to links and photos. I would love to see FB "likes" and responses mirrored at Twitter, but that day has yet to come.

    So I guess my suggestion is "Shun the twitterer, not the Twitter." :-)


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