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The feed needs to stop, and fast

Published: February 12, 2010
Section: Opinions


A fascinating discussion took place on the Web recently, as highlighted by Max Fisher of The Atlantic. A writer for The New Yorker, George Packer, blogged about how much he dislikes Twitter. Nick Bilton of The New York Times then criticized Packer for the shallowness of his comments, to which Packer replied with more commentary on Twitter’s evils.

Fisher presents the debate in a skeptical manner, pointing out both that Packer ironically blogged about Twitter and that his extensive commentary on Twitter correlates with the general importance of the Web site in today’s society. Furthermore, in his response, Bilton notes that Packer does not have a Twitter account, arguing that until he signs up, he is not in a position to condemn those who use Twitter.

Despite these contradictions, I agree with Packer’s conclusions, and I especially agree with his comment: “I haven’t used crack, either, but—as a Bilton reader pointed out—you don’t need to do the drug to understand the effects.”

Twitter represents larger ills that we face as a society that non-Twitter users are perhaps in a better position to describe. Watching someone tweet is like attempting to speak with a gum-chewer: the experience is intolerable. To compound the problem, there are those tweeters who walk into trees and get into car crashes because they choose to share what is on their minds at inappropriate times.

Quick “tweets” of information condense thoughts and everyday experiences into an endless stream of information. Healthy conversation and debate gets boiled down to catch phrases and poorly worded commentary. In the world of Twitter, nobody reads your second to last post, and the ideas that are on your mind at the moment get shared and erased, joining the rest of those fleeting thoughts that just do not matter.

Bilton writes: “Hundreds of thousands of people now rely on Twitter every day for their business. Food trucks and restaurants around the world tell patrons about daily food specials. Corporations use the service to handle customer service issues. Starbucks, Dell, Ford, JetBlue and many more companies use Twitter to offer discounts and coupons to their customers. Public relations firms, ad agencies, schools, the State Department—even President Obama—now use Twitter and other social networks to share information.”

Still, what for Bilton is incredible appears to me to be problematic. Twitter has become a public relations tool, a way to sell one’s product by adding to the stream of consciousness of thousands of die-hard Twitter users. Companies prefer to tweet, knowing they can force feed public relations material and Twitter users who stumble on such pages will read it. To me, there is nothing appealing about President Obama on Twitter. If I want to communicate with Mr. Obama, I’ll call him myself.

Bilton argues that Packer sounds like the nay-sayers of the 1800s who argued against the widespread use of trains, characterizing them as a danger to public health. Trains were a progressive invention, however. Twitter, on the other hand, abbreviates thoughts into 140 characters in a way that threatens to reintroduce into human conversation the staccato sounds of the pre-historic man.