Sunday, August 24, 2008

More on Twitter

On the Media this week has a segment on Twitter. Since Twitter caused some stir on this blog, readers may enjoy listening to the episode, available at

The blog posts on Twitter intrigued me. I have been reading about privacy issues and I would have thought that a blog dedicated to legal research would have brought up some of those issues. Instead, the defenders of Twitter took up what I call the first users’ credo: it’s good to be connected. To which I reply, connected, but communicating what? How deep and intimate is the connection? What is the potential for surveillance, bullying, crime, and thoughtlessness? Can Twitter logs be hacked? Why pay for a service that you cannot tweak? How does following people change the sense of self in a period of government surveillance?

Since the Twitter post only allows 140 characters ,and has even started a twitter haiku genre, not much can be communicated. I would have thought this would have been discussed by librarians. Why not write letters to individuals who share interests or edit a newsletter? As librarians, we are supposed to be involved in developing thought.

There was a post this year by a blogger writing how constant blogging changed his relationship to the world. He changed in ways that disturbed him. He became a constant observer seeking the quick retort. His writing was oriented toward readers. He described my unease with much blogging. The writing style on blogs often disturbs me and I found a good quote this morning that could apply. The author said too much fiction was being written to be read aloud to workshop attendees. Writers were losing their involvement to their work and anticipating the responses of classmates. I wonder if this shift applies to blogging and twittering.

What I want from technology is increased self-reliance, support for contemplation and the ability to “enlarge my ambition.” Twitter does not do that.


James Milles said...

To me, the "debate" about Twitter is largely resolved by the fact that those who have written about it here fall neatly on two sides: those who have never tried it and fear it, and those who use it regularly and find it a delightful, and occasionally useful, part of their life.

It's not a simple matter of privacy versus government surveillance. Twitter users share only as much as they choose to. Nobody forces me to write anything on Twitter. I share what I like and keep the rest to myself. I could, if I wanted to, make my feed private; that's my choice.

waltc said...

Sorry, Jim, but it's not that black and white. There is a third group: Those of us who have tried it and found that it simply didn't suit us. I know I'm not the only one, as a number of other bloggers have had similar experience.

As for why there's not a lot of discussion on the dangers of Twitter, I can think of two reasons:

1. The "neat sides" view--that you can't try Twitter and not become a regular Twitter. Neatly expressed here by Jim Milles.

2. The feeling I suspect most of us in that third group have, which is that just because it doesn't work for us doesn't make it a bad thing--just not our thing. Twitter clearly serves some people very well, so I see very little reason to argue against it...and I'd guess it's no more (and no less) a threat to privacy than email, blogging, Facebook, sms...

James Milles said...

Walt, of course you're right, there are lots of people who tried Twitter and decided it wasn't for them. None of those people, though, had yet weighed in here on OOTJ. I'm glad to have you be the first.

Still, that doesn't really conflict with my main point: those who actively dislike Twitter, who see it as a threat and something that needs "defenders," are those who haven't tried it.

Jacqueline Cantwell said...

I read the privacy policy on Twitter's website. There did not seem to be much privacy. How safe are the logs from hacking? Also, the log-in to Twitter defaults to public. Twitter said that facebook connections could be downloaded into Twitter. Facebook has many privacy problems. How have those been addressed by Twitter? LiveJournal has reported ID hackings; what id authenticity exists in Twitter? The web page did not provide much information. These are the kinds of questions librarians should address.

The Future of the Internet by Jonathan Zittrain and The Unwanted Gaze by Jeffrey Rosen bring up points I would like to see debated on this blog.

I haven't Twittered because I don't have cell phone. I don't even like the telephone. I like letters, writing them, sealing the envelope, walking to the post office, getting letters, opening the envelope. I want to use more than my thumbs. I am a cheapskate who wants the sublime.

From that above paragraph, a hacker could use the phrase "cheapskate who wants the sublime" and find my profile on dwell.connect, and from there to my love of airstreams and so on.

This communication technology creates an "imagined community." Current technology does not provide for the subtleties of types of connection possible in the meat world. Not everyone is friendly and current technology provides users with little ability to verify identities and motivations. You cannot control your online information and how it is used. My reservations on Twitter are not those of a Luddite. I am concerned about the misuse of personal data and the loss of attention.