Twitter: actually good for something

| Forum Editor

Before I came back to school, I went to see the New York Times documentary “Page One.” The standout figure of the film was columnist David Carr, whose gravelly-voiced, eloquent opinions about Twitter made it clear to me that my decision to join earlier this year didn’t mean I had “succumbed” to tweeting. Rather, I had opened myself to a new, fascinating way of keeping in touch with the world.

Earlier this month, Carr retweeted a link listing “100 Twitter Rules to Live By” by CNBC’s Darren Rovell. Plenty of rules were insightful, but those that struck me the most emphasized giving a purpose to your Twitter. This column, coupled with one by Patton Oswalt on tweeting as a comedian, made me wonder if many of us are really using the service beyond some way to post silly thoughts. The best tweeters, in their words, have a reason for tweeting (a “raison de Twitter,” if you will). While I think they are good rules and took many of them to heart—probably too much, as it seems I’ve barely tweeted since reading the article—I think this blanket idea of “how you should use Twitter” diminishes some elements that make the service so useful in the first place.

Firstly, there’s that aspect of it that allows you to follow all sorts of things going around in the world. News sources, reporters, activists, writers and people gifted with brevity are all available to a Twitter user. In the span of twenty tweets, you can receive a multi-faceted imaging of a single situation. Admittedly, it depends on whom you follow, but the potential for breadth (and access to depth) is unparalleled. I’d never been better informed about what goes on in the world until I started tweeting.

When my job ended at the end of July as the debt crisis was running at its hottest, I felt informed from multiple angles; I was linked to a bevy of articles and opinions, each giving me a greater opportunity to develop my own feelings on the situation. The best part is that I really don’t have to tweet at all. My feed will still be populated with a ton of news, regardless of whether or not I say anything.

Twitter is also, at its core, a social device. At Wash. U., we’re most familiar with Facebook in that regard, but many other students at other institutions rely on the immediacy of Twitter to find out about goings-on and event around their campuses. Different communities use Twitter differently—the food trucks in cities like Los Angeles and Austin thrive off of a diverse and active community of followers, so did my co-workers this summer who went to historically black colleges like Spelman and Morehouse. Some of my Wash. U. classmates legitimately tweet things that interest me, but so many of our feeds feel overloaded with #firstworldproblems, #meaninglesshashtags and very little conversation.

Maybe one day, some of us will be Twitter all-stars, and therefore free to espouse whatever we want, and have a community of followers who engage with that; but for now, we’re just people who are really only followed by our friends, so why can’t we use it to share something a little more meaningful? We don’t have to follow all the rules. We shouldn’t treat the service as a glorified Facebook status. If we’re going to post things to Twitter, let’s figure out how we can use the service as another way to communicate.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.