Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Defense of Twitter and Its #Failings...

I have an agent friend (who shall remain nameless) who has a problem with Twitter. (Last week we got in our latest debate about it in a series of email messages of 140 character or less.) "I think there's a direct line between things like Twitter, people's attention spans getting shorter, fewer people reading books, and publishers having problems/wanting to publish fewer books," he told me.

I say he might as well be reviewing a movie he's never seen. Personally, I find being involved in Twitter exciting, often invigorating and sometimes even inspiring. People are having conversations and creating community, not just posting things like, "just took a sip of Darjeeling tea" as my agent friend seems to think. Look at the impact the Twitter community has made with #amazonfail, creating an uproar and an awareness of the alleged Amazon glitch deranking LGBTQ and erotica books.

More from my agent friend: "I get how Twitter can help people connect with their fans, but do they really need by-the-minute updates? I think it can really be argued that it's bad for writing and, in a larger sense, bad for books and for what we do. I think the reasons why it's bad are pretty obvious--not taking the time to write thoughtfully and clearly. Everything being quick, on the go, abbreviated, etc. News not being fully covered; everyone wanting a quick, easily digestible answer. It's terrible. It's the dumbing down of our world...little by little."

First, I suggest he read the Jennifer Blanchard's post on Copyblogger about how Twitter Makes You a Better Writer. Quick and short is not necessarily not thoughtful. It's often challenging to make a point/answer a question/share an opinion or philosophy in fewer that 140 characters--it can take a lot of thought (and self-editing). And I think, in general, people are as informed as they choose to be. They can see a newspaper headline and choose to read the whole story. They can hear a soundbite and choose to stay tuned for the full report. And they can read a tweet and choose to follow a link and read more. Twitter is a great portal into myriad news sources and allows a user to quickly see what interests her and delve into that material.

#amazonfail is not the first hashmarked discussion of its kind. Publishing-related Twitterverse #fails include #queryfail and #agentfail. (And if I had a dollar for every time I saw that adorable fail whale...) Whether this trend is negative or productive is up for debate. But I think it's terrific that Twitter exists as a forum for these conversations and a place where the writing and publishing community can chatter about what's on their minds 24/7 whether it's just for fun or creates a furor.

10 comments:

Teresa R said...

Aside from the pluses you mentioned, as I tell everyone these days, I get most of my news from Twitter...not just my normal NY Times view either, but from a range of viewpoints, not necessarily all that I'd agree with, but makes for good fodder for character building when working on a new piece of fiction (in addition to terrific stuff that we can use in our homeschooling).

Doug MacRae said...

I'm very new to Twitter, attempting to keep in touch with fans of my cartoons and gain new ones, but what I see for the most part is in fact the "just took a sip of Darjeeling tea" updates or the comments with links to programs that will inflate your number of followers. Bit silly I think.

I'm still trying to figure out if Twitter is the right vehicle for me to get my humor and art out to the world. I guess time will tell.

Paula said...

I don't totally disagree with your agent friend, it's just I don't agree where Twitter is concerned. While I believe texting plays into the dumbing down, because you're creating totally new words to make texting easier and thus some people (i.e. younger folks) may not always appreciate that you can't always write in that fashion.

But I think Twitter serves a greater purpose and that's mainstreaming information.

I love being able to access so many different pieces of information. I'd cut down on blog reading b/c it took too long to slog through blogrolls. But Twitter has made my blog reading more efficient.

But I see where some may disagree. Still, it's neither the second coming or the sign of the last days.

Sara Z. said...

Sad to admit - my attention span and desire to read has definitely declined since the interwebs became such a big part of life...
I don't think that's the fault of technology, though. It's user error. Tech is a tool. In this case, it just happens to be one that can also be easily abused and overused. We have to find ways to make sure it serves us, not the other way around.

Alli said...

I agree with your agent friend on one point: I do feel that Twitter has helped increase my inability to focus.

But that's not really a fault of Twitter. It's the fault of Twitter gadgets like Twitterfox that fit snuggly into my browser window and pop up every time someone I follow makes a new tweet. If I could detach myself and turn off the Twitter gadgets, then maybe I wouldn't split my focus so often.

But I'm a big fan of what Twitter does and can do. I just need to figure out how to use it effectively for me.

diesel said...

Well put. As to whether twitter and its like are dumbing down the masses, as some argue, I have to disagree with that (and agree with you that it's not). Aside from your point that it takes consideration to limit one's words, language is in constant evolution. So all the complaints about new words created for texting and such strike me as a bit overblown, simply because we neither speak nor talk and we certainly don't spell the same way Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser, and Chaucer did. Evolution of language keeps it vital; while there is some dumbing down as one might say, there's also the beauty and opportunity of creating something new.

And your agent friend hasn't seen any of the twitter poets, I take it?

(and yes, I couldn't live without twitter, either. I have one again.)

Shaelyn said...

Hello Alice-Love your blog! I have a question and I hope with your experience in Children's literature that you my know of a book that I am trying to find. My dad used to read it to me when I was young in the early 80's. It was an ABC book that went like this "A is for Apple shiny and bright, B is for Bed where I sleep at night, C is for Carrot crunchy and yummy, D is for Doggy he lies on his tummy," and so on. When I have asked this question to others, they think that it is a Little Golden Book, but I have contacted someone with that book and it is not the correct one. My dad and I cannot remember the title of the book or author or even what it looks like. Wish I had more information. All I know are the words to the story, since we memorized it together and he taped me saying it when I was about 3 years old. I hope that you may know or have some inside resources that could find out what this mystery book's information is. Also, if it is a book that can no longer be found, can it be recreated or republished? Thank you for your time in reading this and I hope to hear from you soon. You can email me at shaebabeo@yahoo.com Thanks again!

Shaelyn

mr chompchomp said...

Everyone wants to declare the Death of the Book and blame it on something. I doubt that Twitter's any more to blame than the telephone, radio, TV, pool, comics, rock n' roll, cable TV, overdiagnosis of ADHD, the Internet in general, or the Bush administration.

I started teaching English at the beginning of the Internet revolution and noticed right away that my students with email accounts were better writers than those without. It's not hard to figure out why.

Between email, blogging, texting, tweeting, and facebooking more people are writing and writing more (by nearly any measure) than any other time in the 20th century. We are in a golden age for language (if not for books) and we ought to celebrate.

On the other hand, everything I've read makes Twitter look like either a fad or a religion (the difference: religions hang around longer). I'm not interested in either. If someone can demonstrate that it's a truly useful tool, and better than the ones we already have, I'll join in.

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