Twitter Tempest: Jonathan Franzen Versus the 'Twitterverse'
Award-winning author called it the “ultimate irresponsible medium”
“Twitter stands for everything I oppose... It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters," Franzen said. "It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring 'The Metamorphosis.' Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers—particularly serious readers and writers—these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”
Is Franzen Right?
When the topic of Twitter comes up, I often hear people say: “I don’t care what some celebrity ate for breakfast.”
What they don’t understand is that Twitter is a tool that is used very differently depending on your own interests. Yes, you can simply follow lots of celebrities and read tweets about their favorite new cocktail or how much they hate Daylight Savings time. But you can also follow breaking news, whether that news is about technology, finance, politics or yes, even celebrity gossip.
It's a Microphone
Like any public space, there is ignorant speech, gossip, unsubstantiated rumors, mindless chatter and sometimes intelligent or witty conversation. And unlike traditional public conversations, Twitter allows us the ability to amplify topics by gathering more voices from around the world. You may have a very specific interest and not know anyone locally who wants to discuss it with you, but with social media you can find others who can share your passion. There is no one way to use Twitter, nor can you simply write off all the speech found there as ignorant.
My advice to someone who is curious about Twitter is sign up. Follow a few people you either know or admire. See who they follow. As you follow along, unfollow those who don’t enhance your understanding or who offend you. Twitter will suggest people to follow based on how you use it. Engage with others and start your own conversations. I find it to be a great way to keep up to date, to find stories that I may have missed and have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of people I wouldn’t have “met” in any other way.
Before you criticize it and its millions of users, let the experiment run for a few weeks. You may find that the conversation is one you would rather ignore, or find that it trivializes communication like Mr. Franzen, but you may discover why so many people find it to be an essential part of their online life.