Twitching to Twitter

I used to be a simple radio reporter; a journalist that told you what politicians did and said. Now I tweet and face with a book, that is, when I'm not blogging.

When I started in the radio business we were still using reel-to-reel tape, we edited with razor blades and an adhesive tape; few broadcasted reports via cell phone. Today I send my reports in MP3 format via email, often from wireless hotspots around the city. I am used to change, but I’m not sure I’m ready for the social networking revolution that is now happening in the media.

In the old days (like last year), I would attend an event or watch Parliament, record what happened, sort out what was new, what was old, what people needed to hear or wanted to hear and report on the event. Now reporters need to not only file their stories each day, they have to update the stories on the web as the day goes on. Then they have to blog about the stories and about their day, and as each new event happens, you must of course, Tweet.

I’ve resisted Twitter, just like I resisted Facebook. It’s not the technology that bothers me, it’s the idea of keeping up on everyone else’s life in such detail. Comedian Ron James, describing his own kids seeming addiction to social networks, says you basically end up with updates like “Jimmy’s brushing his teeth.”

Eventually a friend wore me down on Facebook and once you are in, well, I’m not sure how to shut it down, so I’m stuck. As for blogging and Twittering or tweeting, those were ordered by my boss; I really had no choice. (My wife keeps asking if my new hobby makes me a Twit.)

Right now, I’m twitching to tweet on Twitter and I just signed up for that social network service a couple of days ago. I’m worried it will become another tick like my incessant checking of email on my Blackberry, another work requirement. I’m worried it will take me further down the path to being one of those people you see in urban environments, the ones who don’t look at you while they talk to you; they type, reply and scroll while they supposedly engage you in conversation.

Regardless of how I feel about this incursion of new technology in my life, I only have two choices, embrace it or buy a subscription to Mother Earth News and become a back to the land type living off the grid. Given my gardening and animal husbandry skills, I choose the former.

Some of you may have read this far and said, “Fair enough Brian, you’re using some new fangled thingy to yap at people, but what on Earth is it?” Well, for the benefit of you, and Michael Cook who says he’s unsure of how it all works (Michael is so far behind me here, by like three days), here is a quick run down.

Blogs have been around long enough for most people to know what they are, a sort of web based diary that you can use to post random thoughts, full articles, rants or whatever you like. Facebook is where you connect with the people you last saw in high school, once traded cookies with on the playground or worked with but lost touch. Twitter takes the social aspect of Facebook, adds the short sentences of cell phone text messaging, and puts them together.

With Twitter you have 140 characters to express a thought. That’s it. Hv u cn txt talk it’s like that….translation? – have you seen text talk, it’s like that. Some can form a cohesive thought without resorting to abbreviations, others cannot. A writer with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently wrote Twitter versions of novels and great speeches:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Fitz: Gatsby throws great parties. He loves Daisy. A green light at night, some ennui, a car accident, a shooting. Everything’s about money. Sigh.
John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, 1961
JFK: Dont ask what ur country can do 4u. It shld be the other way around.

Obviously, Twitter is not a vehicle for great literature. But as The New York Times recently put it, Twitter, or any of the social networking sites for that matter, is what you make of it. They can be used for keeping up with friends, used as business tools, as in my case, or used to keep up on your latest celebrities. Did you know Tina Fey and Senator John McCain both Twitter and post their own tweets?

Once you are on, you decide who to follow and others can choose to follow you. The number of people following you and how many you are following, is posted right there for all to see. It can be a bit like high school; it is teen peer pressure brought to the adult world.

Twitter will likely be replaced in a year, maybe less, by the next big thing and that in turn will be replaced. What will not change, what will not stop is the revolution in how humans in the Western world communicate with each other, how our media communicate with us. My fellow Canadian, Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message;” today’s message is interaction.

Brian Lilley is journalist, blogger and now Twitterer, he is also Mercatornet’s Associate Editor


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