Twitter Is Neither Our Salvation Nor Our Doom

A pop quiz: Twitter is A) a world-transforming communication medium that connects us to one another in ways that redefine what it means to be human; B) an idiotic time-waster that is the enemy of genuine thought and meaning; C) both; D) neither.

What do you think? Sometimes I feel like people who write about it have to take either position A or position B, without entertaining the possibility that the answer is C, or maybe something else: used in a way that suits you, it can be quite handy and entertaining, but it could also disappear tomorrow and life as we know it would continue. It may well be that ten or 20 years from now Twitter will have swallowed up the communication world. But I've had this sneaking suspicion, watching all the hype over its IPO, that a couple of years from now, something will come along that we haven't yet thought of, and it'll make Twitter seem about as current as MySpace. Then a few years after that, it'll just be gone.

I'm not bold enough to predict outright that that will happen; it's just a suspicion. But Twitter hype is just one iteration of a Silicon Valley mindset that is fast moving into self-parody. Nobody there is allowed to just make a useful tool; if your Y Combinator presentation or your VC pitch doesn't claim that your idea is going to be as big as the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel put together, then you obviously don't have what it takes to become one of our emerging class of nerd overlords. Every time I hear one of these young tech barons (actual or aspiring) saying their new shoelace-categorizing app is going to transform modern existence, talking in banal aphorisms they intend to be super-profound, and saying things like "I'm at a point in my life where I want to go deeper," I think, No, you're at a point in your life where you're a pretentious asshat.

It shouldn't be too hard to acknowledge that something like Twitter can be both good and bad. It's no accident that the people who see it as an unalloyed disaster of epic proportions, like Jonathan Franzen, don't use it and don't seem to quite grasp how it works. But if you think it's going to transform the world (or that it already has), you probably aren't seeing too clearly either. But Iranian citizens used Twitter to communicate during the Green Revolution! Yes they did. And how'd that work out? Their revolution got put down with truncheons, a rather bluntly pre-digital technology.

Sorry for the grumpiness. But here's a piece about Twitter by Kathryn Schultz that tries to wrestle with ambivalent feelings about it. It's something we could use more of in commentary about technology.

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