Or, A Twitter Retrospective.
Since the launch of Twitter back in 2006, the network has polarised opinion; creating both ardent fans and vitriolic critics.
But what has Twitter added to our lives? Is it a force for social good or another mindless distraction?
The latest Twitter critic to lash out is Baroness Greenfield:
“Facebook & Twitter have created a generation obsessed with themselves, who have short attention spans and a childlike desire for constant feedback on their lives.”
Should we really be worried that social networking is melting our brains, rather than celebrating our natural gregarious nature?
In an attempt to gain some insight into how and why people use Twitter I created a short survey and distributed it to a control group of regular Tweeters.
Of the Tweeters who responded:
- 80% have been members for 2-3 years.
- 60% have always used social networks.
- Everyone is also a member of Facebook and LinkedIn.
- 80% spend more than 10 hours a day on social networks.
- While 100% people surveyed work in a marketing-related job, non had the words ‘social media’ in their job title.
- 100% used Twitter for work as well as pleasure.
Most interesting however, were respondents’ opinions when asked “What value (personal of professional) do you feel you gain from Twitter?” responses included:
“I get the chance to share things I find interesting in the Digital Marketing world and find articles that I wouldn’t otherwise gain.”
“I’ve gone on to meet loads of the folks that I talk to most on Twitter and have made some really good friends as a result of the time I spend on there.”
“It’s a good way to stay ‘in touch’ with people I might not see as often as I might like – it’s like a modern postcard.”
100% of respondents specified sharing, recommending, discovering, networking and engagement as benefits gained from the network.
This does not sound like narcissism or approval craving, it sounds to me like a platform for interaction, upon which you are free to make up your own rules. If people don’t like the way you behave, they don’t have to follow you.
“I do not care what you had for tea, but if someone does then they can find out.”
Unfortunately, the lack of ‘human’ element in social media conversations can lead to some schoolyard squabbles that are never pleasant.
Stephen Fry tasted the uglier side of Twitter in 2009 when an unwitting fan succinctly offended him and quickly felt the wrath of Alan Davies (as did anyone else in the vicinity – you can read about it here.)
This incident really highlights what a virtual conversation lacks, ie. the ‘personal touch’. I very much doubt @JimJammer would have called Stephen Fry boring had he been stood face-to-face; further emphasising the ease of writing one thing and meaning another.
I think this is where Twitter in particular has a problem – its brevity and general lack of real ‘conversation’ (in the traditional sense of the word) have dehumanised the interaction on the network. Without eye contact, body language and contextual clues, a comment like this can be interpreted as a jovial bit of fun, a needless rant or a hurtful insult.
It’s just ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’. Is that enough to base a real relationship on?
“Expanded circle of acquaintances (wouldn’t always say friends)”
Having said that, ultimately Twitter is just a tool. How we use it to communicate is up to us; the members that make up this alternative community. Although the restrictions Twitter applies to messaging present new challenges in communicating in a ‘human way’ there is nothing intrinsically negative about the medium itself.
At the end of the day, ‘Twittequette’ is summed up perfectly in an old adage I’m sure you’ll remember from your childhood…
‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’
Image Credit: Cyanide & Happiness