Friday, July 17, 2009

Twitter’s Trivial Postings Squander Site’s Potential...

By George E. Hardin
Memphis Tri-State Defender

Over the years I’ve tried to keep abreast of technology and become aware of the major ideas and issues that are keys growth and progress in the world today. And although technologically challenged, I’ve been able to function reasonably well but always on the periphery, operating at the minimal level, hesitant to venture beyond the techniques and practices I know well. Back in 1986, when personal computers were still a novelty. I bought a Commodore 128 computer, complete with Pac-Man software, but mainly used it for word processing. Seeing the coming evolution in my work as a photographer, I bought my first digital camera in 2001, a 3-megapixel Nikon for $1,000. Last week I saw a 3-megapixel camera advertised for $187. My phone now has a 2-megapixel camera. Early on the idea of carbon emissions seemed inconsequential. Now I realize it is a crucial issue.

Learning new computer skills sometimes seems daunting, so it was it was with some hesitation that I accepted a request from a longtime friend, with whom I had not been in contact for awhile, to open a Twitter account so we could keep in touch. My first inclination was to suggest e-mail would be a better way. (I’m in e-mail contact with people across the nation and in other countries, and Twitter seems to add an unnecessary layer of technology.) But I quickly put that thought aside and joined the brave new world of “microblogging,” also known as “social networking.”

Twitter promotes itself as “a service for friends, family, and coworkers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” Correspondents are expected to answer the question immediately in 140 characters or fewer.

In signing on to Twitter I joined the estimated 14 million people involved in broadcasting their “tweets,” as messages on Twitter are called. Twitter’s immediacy is touted as its most appealing aspect—disclosing what you’re doing at the moment you send your “tweet.” Consequently, I’ve learned, some people sometimes send messages such as this: “I’m in line at the bank. Gotta transfer some funds so I can write a big check. What R U doing? C U later.” I find it hard to write such mundane facts about myself and wonder if such postings provide too much information about something of too little consequence. Substantive information, yes; trivia, no. Therefore, my concern is not so much against the idea of Twitter but the manner in which it is so often used.

Twitter began as a way for immediate family members and friends to interact. But somewhere along the way the idea to make one’s musings available to the general online community took hold. Now 90 percent of Twitter’s items are available to the public. Celebrities, politicians and corporate executives are among those who take part in Twittering their actions and thoughts to those awaiting their every entry—perhaps with bated breath.

Jeffrey Hayzlett, the chief marketing manager at Kodak, recently sent out this message to the more than 3,000 people who read his blog from time to time: “Now meeting with the Kodak marketing team for lunch to talk about general items and get to meet the team.” It’s hard to believe most of his followers saw that as an earth-shaking revelation.

A national pizza chain is seeking a college student as a Twitter intern. With a title as the “social media journalist,” the employee’s sole job will be to tell the world about new developments at the company and scan Twitter for any negative postings such as the recent YouTube video of employees at another pizza firm doing unsanitary things in the kitchen.

The very name Twitter seems to define its purpose: “to talk lightly and rapidly, especially of trivial matters; chatter.” I’m aware that Twitter has the potential to be more than a vehicle for trifling messages, but that aspect remains to be better utilized. While I await the efforts of some entrepreneur or company to find better ways to use the social networking site, I will try to be bright and witty in any “tweets” I make, but I don’t believe I’ll become atwitter over a flurry of instant messages that must be answered immediately.

(George E. Hardin worked as a photographer, reporter and editor, and in public relations during a long career before he retired. His column appears every other week.)

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