News at 140 Characters per Second

A couple of days ago, I was eyeballing my Twitter feed and it “exploded” — tweets came at a furious pace, retweeting, modified tweeting, quoted tweeting, fresh tweeting. Tweets with links, tweets with emoticons, serious tweets and facetious tweets. All of them (barring Sponsored Tweets, which are something I’d pay to NOT have to see) were about the Fed’s Q&A session.

I didn’t have to watch it (I caught clips later). I had, quite literally, a play-by-play review from journalists, editors, friends, co-workers, and friends-of-friends of every question, position, response, and impact. “Knowing”, as I do, most of these sources, I could tell who was being predictably circumspect, who was flying off the handle, and who was simply “reporting”. I had a dozen neatly arranged bits of data at my fingertips.

This is the same Twitter feed that gave me an equally determined and detailed vision of “Sharknado”, the deliberately cheesy SciFy flick. (It was what it sounded like: Sharks. In a Tornado.) Quite possibly the best thing I read about that was that the special effects were akin to dropping 3 bowling balls in a bucket filled with a 50/50 mix of “Motor Oil and Kool-Aid” (that, from NPR).

I’ve heard Twitter criticized as the medium of the vapid, a haven for narcissists, a cocktail party happening at 140-character snippets. These are, actually, all accurate impressions. Twitter is chock-a-block FULL of vapid narcissists (um, hi!) and is very much like a cocktail party. The trick with a cocktail party, though, aside from eating a bit beforehand and judiciously measuring your alcohol intake, is to not stick yourself with a group of people who 1. don’t tend to agree with you, unless you’re that rare creature who can handle an honest debate, and 2. find the group of people with the discussion base that interests you. If that happens to be the Kardashians, well, enjoy. I won’t be with you, though.

To some extent Twitter is a very personalized “news” feed, and I say that with “air quotes”/aka. “Bunny Rabbit Ears” because “news” is something as a concept that is bastardized near and far. Al-Jazeera Egypt is now even subject to scrutiny in its authenticity, I’ve heard Fox News called “Faux News” and even CNN has had criticism. I personally float to the Economist and the Guardian, because if you’re going to get brutally fair journalism you’re going to get it from a race that self-flaggelates as a cultural point of pride. It’s further personalized by the fact that  you’re unlikely to “follow” anyone who irritates you or annoys you, much as you’re not likely to grab your wine/vodka tonic/beer/margarita/iced tea and stand next to that asshole you wished the hostess wouldn’t invite to her party. You can safely intake your news with whatever bias you prefer, and get it that way.

An interesting thing that happens, though, in the Twitterverse, is the concept of the “retweet”. You may not stand next to the asshole at the party, but his voice can carry. You can attempt to tune it out, but someone may (conspirationally, mischievously, inaptly) repeat exactly what he said in a “You wouldn’t believe what [the asshole] just said” sort of way. Ladies and Gentlemen, enter the retweet. Retweeting is not limited to “hey look this person thinks like I do” but can also be an entrée to “Holy shit can you believe this douchebag just said that?”. In a world where you are not tolerant enough of the douchebag to follow him/her, chances are someone in your Twittersphere is, and will let you know what s/he said. Twitter is therefore no more, or less, useful than any other medium of news delivery we have had to date. It’s just delivered in an abbreviated fashion.

That may be a blessing.

 

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