Twitter gives the web a short-term memory problem … Twitter gives the Web a short-term memory problem

George Packer’s take on twitter has clearly twanged many nerves – not least Nick Bilton and David Carr. So far, so New York.

How is it that people keep finding new media in which to rehash the same old arguments?

Mr Packer manages to smoke out some real issues with what seemed like an attack on twitter but is merely a re-iteration of the old signal-noise ratio problem. Is George merely suffering from a dose of the shirkys — a dread dose of the filter failures? If so, it is a condition diagnosed two years ago – why are we still debating what he is suffering from when we know how to treat it?

Twitter is a great tool but it requires maintenance. Using a desktop app worked for a while, lists helped, but in the end there is only so much filtration that can be done.There is a base level of filtration beyond which only unsubscribing works. If that threshold is too high, then maybe twitter is not for you. Fair enough.

Reducing a tool and one’s preference for it to an us-versus-them position is a morons’ game. If Mr Packer’s reluctance is based on a genuine, informed choice, who cares if he has never signed up to twitter?

If its simplicity has been used as a way to expand its user base and its investor numbers, it seems a tad disingenuous for users to complain that a journalist must really use twitter and really understand it before they decide it’s not for them.

My sympathy is with Mr Packer on this one — and I use twitter every day, although more to read than to post. His avoidance of the tools of real-time communication does not seem to have hampered his career too much. And he has made an informed choice – why does that exercise so many twitter fans? Are they so afraid to be wrong?

Suspicions must always be raised when the loudest cry is “he doesn’t get it”. “OMFG, Packer just DOES NOT GET IT”. That way lie naked emperors and credulous crowds.

I can recall a time when bloggers, pissed off with “dressing gown in basement” put-downs, used the mental practices of journalism to define its quality rather than the tools or medium used.

A curious, questioning mind plus checking sources plus objectivity plus transparency plus right to reply = journalism (roughly). It doesn’t matter if that reaches you through the The Telegraph, the telegraph or the bush telegraph.

Once more, Twitter is just a tool. Like a pencil. Use it to write a shopping list or to write a symphony, but don’t pretend both are music.

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  1. I use Twitter to connect with people. How’s that workin’ for me? So far I’ve met several great people, started a new project with more in the “probability” bin.

    That said, I sometimes feel I’m in a room with over 800 people (my current following) all talking at once, only two or three listening.

    Yes, it is a tool. So is a computer. Every day people use tools they don’t understand. Where will this ignorance lead? I have no idea, but it is sometime a little scary.

    • finoreilly

      I couldn’t agree more, Hal. I think where the problem arises is in the knee-jerk response of some users to condemn the person who identifies serious drawbacks in a system rather than attempting to address that person’s concerns. Mr Bilton’s approach seems to be ‘it works for these people, why does Packer think he is above it?’ If twitter is a tool, his argument is the equivalent of criticising a journalist for using a typewriter over a computer – a little bit out of the ordinary but not damning.
      Carr’s approach is a lot more like it – he does identify some of the problems and some of the solutions and I agree more with his take on Twitter than Packer’s. However, I am glad that there are some people out there who refuse to engage with digital life and still prosper.




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