Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Isn't the medium the message?

Yglesias, in In Defense of Twitter, contends that:
The idea of a “banal and superficial” medium simply doesn’t make much sense.
Curiously, his quote is from Twitter-using Senator Claire McCaskill, whose defense is "ultimately not that interesting."  (Talk about backhanded....)

His contention is that the medium has little to do with the message, that content should be evaluated irrespective of how it's delivered.  He has a point, I suppose, but I think he overstates it.  There are limitations in the Twitter format which make it inappropriate for certain kinds of information conveyance, and I sense that its current popularity is pushing those boundaries.

The question is not, is the medium bad, but is it being used for the right purposes?  George Stephanopoulos interviewing John McCain using Twitter may enhance both men's credentials as with-it, modern, tech-savvy guys, but it did nothing to improve the knowledge of the body politic.  A Twitter message is 140 characters - think about that, 140 characters.  There may be forms of discourse that are appropriately expressed in that space, but there are many more that cannot.

One of the discussion topics for the future is how we're going to deal with the multiplicity of platforms on which we can express ourselves.  [A related topic is how that expression will fit into a business model, but that's for another day.]  And Yglesias may not be the best person to speak to that subject, as he has far more options than most of us.  If he's writing something for his Twitter feed, and he has a thought that will take him past the 140-character barrier, he can "repurpose" it for his very successful blog.  If he has a big thought that can't be contained within the confines of his blog (or is potentially more lucrative), he has a big enough name that he can find another outlet for it, up to and including a book.

But Twitter is smoking hot right now, much more than a new blog would be, and people are going to try to utilize it regardless of message.  We'll lose some deep arguments that might have some value.  In the end, it probably doesn't matter all that much; just as we can't add infinite blogs to our feed readers and have any hope of keeping up, so too will we tend to limit our Twitter feeds, and a lot of the hype and noise will settle down (when your boss and your parents and your children are all tweeting away, are you really going to care what Ashton Kutcher has to say?).  I expect Twitter to become much like the blogosphere; local clusters will emerge and be much more important than the mass that gets the attention now.

At the same time, we can't assume that the limitations of Twitter don't make it somewhat more likely to be "banal and superficial," and it takes only a few minutes on it to convince the discerning person of that.

Note: Yglesias stumbles at the end of his post, when he writes: "There’s no tool so good as to produce good work when badly used."  That has nothing to do with the rest of this entry, as no serious person contends that Twitter magically transforms garbage into flowers...do they?


2Truthy said...

I think it's an OK idea, but personally, I'm too cheap to pay for an overload of messages twittered to me. And when you start getting these cell phone messages every two minutes from people you don't know, eh...

O/T, but you wouldn't happen to know what has become of our Citizen Carrie?


Anonymous said...

I realized today that the Twitter API enables the same clique graph analysis that has made me a mint on LiveJournal. I might make another mint... if I act fast... but I've just been hired back at Microsoft when I return from Mexico. Argue with Andro? Or expand Twitter for $ ? Cry about how Indians and kids get all the good jobs? Or make another job for myself? Guess it's kinda obvious what I should do.

- mcfnord

Anonymous said...

la idea muy excelente y es oportuno http://nuevascarreras.com/ cialis dosis recomendada Mi dispiace, ma, a mio parere, si sbaglia. Sono in grado di provarlo. Scrivere a me in PM, ti parla. [url=http://nuevascarreras.com/ ]cialis efectos secundarios [/url]

Clicky Web Analytics