“I just don’t get Twitter” my roommate said. She was standing over me and my boy friend, her arms folded, staring down at us as we both squatted over our computers updating our Twitter profiles. I could tell she was frustrated. When we didn’t answer, she put her hands on her hips, exclaiming “Twitter is nothing but an endless steam of verbal dihareia.” That got our attention. Was it true?
My roommate is no stranger to social media. She’s definitely not one of those anti-technology activists; she has a Facebook account and checks Perez Hilton’s blog more than anyone I know. This being said, she doesn’t “get” Twitter. And to be quite honest, at first, I didn’t either.
If a society’s mode of communication is a metaphor for that society, as Marshal McLuhan suggested, then what does our obsession with social media say about us?
Our social preoccupation with Twitter suggests two things. On the one hand, it seems we’re a bunch of self-obsessed schizophrenics. We’re so into ourselves that we think the world cares to know what we’re doing at any given point of the day. What’s more, if tweeting is our method of speaking with one another, it seems our social conversations have given up narrative and structure and our discourses have abandoned any points of reference.
But on the other hand, our obsession with Twitter could mean we’re all poets. In the constrained medium that is Twitter, users can only express what they have to say in 140 characters or less. This means each tweet must be concise, condensed and – to some extent – each tweet must be thought out, with much attention paid to audience reception.
In an article by Tom Watson authored in 2007 – just shortly after Twitter’s inception in the summer of ’06 – Watson tells a personal anecdote about how we was prepared to quit Twitter after only two weeks of trying it: “now I [knew] about Howard’s travels, Jason’s workouts and Fred’s Blackberry [...] That’s, er, nice, I guess. I mean, I do want to stay in touch. Really. But I don’t need alerts sent to my cell phone every time a buddy is watching Mayberry RFD on cable and wants to alert his network. Not necessary.” Watson tells he was just about to quit when this tweet flashed across his Blackberry:
Driving down to West Cork used to be a quiet pleasure.
Now it’s a melancholy chore.
Still, the sky is absolutely full of stars.
“Wow. Poetry” he wrote. “Quite possibly the best social networking post I’d ever read.” Watson goes onto argue that Twitter is a poetry machine, although its makers may not have intended it to be used poetically: “this Twitter thing may have legs, but not in the way its founders or a few self-obsessed wired wonksters may think.”
The poetic tweet, he said, was authored by his friend, and told an insightful, raw, and very human story. Suddenly interested in Twitter’s creative potentials, Watson searched Twitter for more poetry, listing some of the ones he’d found:
waiting for my clothes to dry
today is not starting well. at least i didn’t spill the coffee on my pants.
underway. crying as usual. i hate this part.
ate sandwiches at lunch
Emailing Dr. Kapp
None of your business
Seduced by the idea that Twitter had creative capacities, I spent some time hunting out poetry in my own Twitter circle. Here’s what I found:
Qu. of authors’ lives:
first part is of interest.
Then it’s usually just scribble scribble scribble
unless you are Byron or a secret killer.
When I’m depressed
I imagine sleeping children
falling out of bunk beds
and I feel like I can keep going.
Underneath this pile of stones
Lies the remains of Harry Jones
His name was Smith
It was not Jones
But Jones was put
To rhyme with Stones
Of course, to find these, I had to fish through a lot of nonsense and news updates, so the question remains: is Twitter a poetry machine or an endless steam of verbal diarrhea, as my roommate suggested?
The answer, I think, is both. While some use Twitter to update friends and followers about what they ate for lunch or where they’ll be hanging out that night, I follow some insightful artists from the creative community whose tweets are humorous, insightful and even profound.
So while we may be communicating in a fractured form, perhaps — as T.S. Eliot once suggested — we have only fragments – er, tweets – to shore against our ruin.