Saturday, November 15, 2014

Still Life With Robin: Reason to Tweet

Photo by Faisal Akram via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

When Twitter first became a thing (2006), I was not a fan. Having to confine your thoughts to 140 characters was too limiting – or so I thought. It would reduce communications to sloganeering, canned sentiments, and cliches. How could any form of expression stuck inside such a rigid box be anything other than shallow?

I have since come around, mainly because I came to see that Twitter isn’t about words: it’s about links, photos, and connections to other people and ideas. If you follow a Twitter member who is a journalist, you will receive links to that person’s articles – and they are often long, deep pieces. The “re-Tweet” of an article is an even more common in this form of social networking . A friend will read something that speaks to her --that contains new information, that takes on a current controversy from an unusual or intriguing point of view —and recommend it to others by re-Tweeting the author’s original Tweet. So I don’t need to follow the author to be alerted to the article; I just need to know someone who’s connected to that author. It’s the six-degrees-of-separation process on steroids. The 140 character limit forces the re-Tweeter to make the case in the most concise terms that clicking on the link will be worth the reader’s  time.  Because their introductory lines are so brief, Tweets are easy to scroll through in bulk. You just skip over anything that doesn’t immediately grab your attention. No one is ever offended if their Tweet is ignored.

Another thing I like about Twitter is that when you sign on, you don’t have to give much information about yourself or your connections. Unlike Facebook (whose members also use it to post links to articles they want others to read) you don’t have to worry about the company coming in and changing your privacy settings every other month without telling you.

So here I am, eight years late, jumping on the bandwagon. (Oops, did I type that cliché? Well, rather than edit it out I think I’ll keep it in to show it's just as easy to fall back on canned phrases in old media formats as in new ones.) I am particularly enthusiastic about Tweets that provide links to photos along with a news update. Right now the Twitter feed I am most likely to check is @unsuckdcmetro. It lets me know where and how the Metro is currently screwed up. On the practical side, this helps me plan trips; as an added bonus, it’s a frequent source of dark comedy.  A recent example:

Because I follow @washingtonpost on Twitter, I get links to articles/videos that may not make it into the paper – such as this Tweet with a link to a not-really-news video showing a local man’s encounter with a bear on election day: “Obedient bear is listening, open to taking directions from guy who tells it to scram”

DC Alerts @dcalerts is another steady source of updates on the local scene, tweeting on crime, water main breaks, road construction, emergency about a zillion other things that are really so limited in scope you have to wonder why they're in a city-wide alert system (example: on Wednesday, November 12 DCalerts told everyone of a “water outage on Bladensburg Rd NE between Douglass St and Channing St NE, impacting 7 businesses and a church.” 

But the beauty of this site is how easy it is to avoid looking at Tweets that don't interest you. Nothing is thrown in your face. You can always decide how much of anyone’s Twitter feed you want to see. You can un-follow, then re-follow anyone seamlessly, with a single click each time. You can go to someone’s feed without signing on to follow them, and if you have signed on to follow someone, you never have to go there if you don’t want to -- they'll never be the wiser. It’s everything Facebook is not: Quick, convenient, flexible, unobtrusive – a super-efficient way to get something across. And at times it delivers an unexpected little pay-off: a memorable picture you would not otherwise have seen; a funny line; a different take on something you thought you already knew. I leave you with these three Tweets from the past week:  

National Zoo ‏@NationalZoo: Orangutans get mental & physical fitness from the O-Line! Check out Kiko brachiating:#OrangutanCaringWeek 

GuinnessWorldRecords ‏@GWR (via @washingtonpost Did you miss it? Well, here's a roundup of all the awesome records broken on #GWRday this week   

…and without Twitter I would have totally missed the fact that it snowed in our area on Thursday:  Capital Weather Gang @capitalweather: Snow in Sterling!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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