In defence of Twitter #mustread

Literary snobs be damned; Twitter is a blessing to language

Twitter is so silly, isn’t it?  Just a bunch of quasi-literate narcissists publicizing their snack habits and trying to out-zing each other. And really, how can you say anything important in 140 characters?

That’s what I thought before I was on Twitter.  Once I signed up, I learned a few things:

  1. Nobody is asking you to say anything.  You can just listen.  It’s fine.
  2. If someone is trivial, or self-promoting, or banal, you needn’t listen to them.
  3. You can say a lot in 140 characters.

I initially wrote off Twitter because it seemed like nothing new–a homely and feature-poor version of the Facebook news feed.  But Twitter’s brilliance is its simplicity. Its innovation isn’t technological, but editorial. Like any good editor, Twitter is merciless, demanding absolute brevity which in turn imposes a strict house style.  It has quickly established universal norms, chief among them being the hashtag, an ingenious way to quickly tell everyone just what the hell you’re writing about, something all writers should do regardless of their medium.

Under these constraints, language flourishes. I have read great poetry on Twitter.  I get my news through Twitter, quicker and from more perspectives than anywhere else.  Again and again I laugh, sometimes out loud. Often a tweet is an advertisement for a longer piece of writing.  Sometimes a tweet says it all. The “network effect” on Twitter amplifies some tweets and marginalizes others. This automated filter does a wonderful job, the retweeted tweets are usually the ones I  find most relevant.  Retweeting also brings me information from outside of my personal networks, calming that early-Internet fear that we would each end up trapped inside a bubble of our own narrow interests.  Yes, Twitter is addictive–just like reading.  Twitter is an excellent reader’s medium, and a challenging but rewarding writer’s medium as well.

The editors of the boutique literary magazine (redundant?) N+1 take a dimmer view, here.

They may be a year or two late for Twitter-bashing, but timeliness is a Twitterish concern for such erudite folks.  Contrary to my experience, the editors feel that anyone who’s on Twitter can’t possibly offer clear thinking about it.  To truly understand it, one must shun it, and then it will reveal itself to you as “a scrolling suicide note of Western civilization.”

Twitter is where we “devalue one another through mutual self-importance.” Twitter has wrought “an internet-induced cheapening of language”.  Twitter has “opened up vast new space for carelessness, confusion, whateverism.” At least N+1 is spirited in its snobbery — for a while, anyhow.  Then comes the inevitable academic wankery, the honors thesis hangover that, thank God, gets beaten out of reporters and Tweeters alike by age 25, but which festers into something incurable among certain literary types.

Boringly citing David Foster Wallace as the “accidental progenitor” of the “blogorrheic” Twitter style, the N+1 editors explain that:

“What distinguishes Wallace’s writing from the prose it begot is a fusion of the scrupulous and the garrulous; all of our colloquialisms, typically diffusing a mist of vagueness over the world, are pressed into the service of exactness.”

The above sentence is overwrought, imprecise, indulgent, and 94 characters too long to tweet.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown




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In defence of Twitter #mustread

  1. Great piece Jesse. I really like this line: “Yes, Twitter is addictive–just like reading.”
    As for the “devalue one another through mutual self-importance” type comments from N+1, well of course that’s true. But it’s not true for everyone and it’s not true of the medium in general.
    It’s also hiliariously lacking in self-awareness..! They deserve a medal. A chocolate one, covered in foil, maybe?

  2. Nice article Jesse. I had a similar experience with Twitter. Initially I didn’t see much point. Then, over the last 12 months I started actively using Twitter and Facebook. For me, the brevity of Twitter allows me to actually participate while still keeping up with a busy schedule. Forced brevity is a good thing, especially for writers.

  3. Twitter is hands down my favorite website. I use it all day and everyday. Twitter is the most pro-free speech social networking website I’ve ever seen. I love it so much that I bloody made a shit promoting my Twitter(I can show you a pic if you’d like)

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