Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Twitter and its ilk, smart uses for dumb media

Apparently going to a journalism school in the year 2011 involves hearing a lot veteran journalists talk about the growing importance of “new media” and “social networks” like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other stuff like that. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology and certain aspects of the internet, the nerdy anti-social part. That’s why I've always begrudgingly adopted services that connect real people to other real people instead of impersonal avatars. Don't judge me.

I think the difference between journalists and people in the know about technology is that journalists are aware of new technology like tablets and will always get excited because they are new. Tech people on the other hand are jaded and knowledgeable enough about technology to recognize when the new stuff is cool, like Facebook, and when it’s less so, like Twitter.

Watching Twitter, a service I don’t really like, quickly become a thing that people think matters has caused me to think a lot about the topic. Right now, I’ve accepted that it is something that matters and in some circumstances, it’s actually really cool. It’s all a matter of taking advantage of the format. What cool things can you do with a service that lets you quickly distribute short sentences? Breaking news is an obvious one, as it seems every time something big happens in the Middle East Twitter is the first to let us know. The idea of live blogging has always been a compelling one to me and Twitter has brought that to the mainstream. In that sense it is a valuable new outlet. But beyond that, the rest of news tweets are really just glorified headlines that could have been consumed in a variety of other ways (mobile versions of websites, RSS readers) and besides, journalists find ways to do cool things with a service no matter what. It doesn’t justify the service.

Behold! The terrible future
Then there are the legions of people that just egotistically tweet/derp about their mundane lives. I understand why one would want to do that as having an outlet can be healthy. Why do you think I even have this blog in the first place? But there’s already a perfectly fine place to do that: Facebook. Tweets like these are glorified status updates. Plus Facebook has a bevy of other worthwhile features that justify its ubiquity.

Finally they’re the Twitter feeds that seem solely designed as platforms for would-be comedians to deliver lame 140-character one liners. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly talented comedian, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about comedy. To me the worst Twitter jokes really are just stupid, self-contained jokes that are only slightly better than the stuff on Popsicle sticks. The only people that can usually get away with these tweets are, you know, actual comedians.

Conversely, there is a style of Twitter comedy with virtually limitless potential. The problem with individual tweet jokes is that their short length constrains how much set-up and punch line they can deliver. However, if your tweet is part of some larger narrative that already gives you the necessary context then the jokes can be far more creative and entertaining. Each tweet is a part of a longer-form nonsensical Twitter account. Again, this blog should show you how much I like long form nonsense.

One of the more famous examples of this, besides the various fake versions of real people accounts, is “Shit My Dad Says”, a twitter feed so popular(?) it was turned into a terrible, terrible sitcom starring William Shatner. While that last part is more a sad reflection of the television industry, it also shows the potential this kind of meme-style twitter usage has.

The show is the worst, but the Twitter feed it's based on is pretty alright

A lot of that also applies to Tumblr, another kind of dumb service with certain comedic potential. If you’re just using Tumblr for some regular blogging, then you’re just using a super stripped down blogging service. There are many better options available. Once again, I think this blog is an example of that.The right kind of way to be using Tumblr, to me at least, is stuff like “Who is Arcade Fire”, “Michael Buble being stalked by a velociraptor” and “Fake Criterions”. Each post is a part of a larger whole.

Now how can I shorten this to shorten this to 140 characters before I turn it into my professors? #ClicheEnding

Also be sure to follow me

Oh Medill

1 comment:

  1. You forgot the best tumblr: http://tomhanksimals.tumblr.com/