Why Tweet?

Two disparate but related posts led me to ask this question today. First, there was Fisherville Mike’s short post linking to an article about Sarah Palin’s use of Facebook. It was this line that got me thinking:

Politicians shouldn’t tweet like they’re teenage girls – Newt Gingrich talking about dinner with James Carville, or Nathan Daschle telling how he’s relaxing in the hot tub. Go ahead and have a life; we just don’t care to hear about it.

Mike hit the nail on the head. People are naturally social animals–indeed, there’s a whole category of mental illness used to describe behavior in which people have abnormal social patterns: personality disorders. The flip side of this coin, though, is that social networking tools like Twitter and to an even greater extent lead us to believe that everyone we care about (or have in our social network because we think they can help us (you do it–admit it) cares about everything that we do–the phenomena of people posting their every little move on Twitter and Facebook is really no different from the Salahi’s gatecrashing at the White House–the goal is relevance in an increasingly growing and shrinking world. Both Twitter and FB have their place. In particular, I think that Twitter is custom made for short posts from political events and to spread pithy thoughts about major news. I’ll admit that even I am guilty of an occasional vanity tweet, but the fact of the matter is that in the wrong hands these tools are just another way for drama makers and attention seekers to get an audience they don’t deserve.

The other post was from Krystle about a curious new device created by tech types at Hasselt University. It’s essentially a Fisher Price activity center with a board inside that sends tweets when toddlers press family member’s pictures.

Is it me or has this hit a new level of insanity? Can we just let kids be kids? Children can utilize technology without impacting their social skills towards addiction or even imposing the mantra of acronyms into their learning. It’s bad enough that children are growing up faster each day through the various influences in the media and on the internet. Twoddler is actually taking away from a child’s creativity by drawing them towards a technology addicted lifestyle. I guess this is the sign of the times and further distancing simplicity outside of childhood.

Again, the device is simply a prototype, but I would expect that it won’t be too long before social networking is integrated into new toys. I find this dangerous from two perspectives. First, despite its name, social media ceates a new wrinkle in interpresonal interaction by allowing people to connect from long distances. It does this, however, through a screen, a screen that cannot capture the depth of an individual’s true emotions. It is necessarily limited to text and sometimes graphics. It seems that as we move through phases of technology, we lose a certain depth of communication. The telephone eliminated facial expressions, text messaging made it very difficult for some turns of phrase and irony to be readily understood, and the invention of text messaging further garbled the mix. Children should be raised in a manner that allows them to use the whole of their social tools. While social media is here to stay and will become an increasingly part of our social interaction, it doesn’t mean that children need to have it pounded into them from three months of age. If we foist adult ideas upon children, we’ll end up with a generation with limited imagination and verbal abilities, thinking that they’ll always have the comfort of the screen to mediate awkward social interactions.

And another thing–why Twitter? I view twitter much the same way as I view XM radio–an intermediary technology. Twitter is a curious little thing–part social network, part micro-blogging tool. But these features are both being quickly supplanted by Facebook and the increasing integration of social media into smart phones, combined with the increasing use of data plans on said phones. Another reason not to barrage children with social media from an early age–it is a constantly shifting universe that requires discretion and understanding of the various pros and cons to each platform. I may sound like a hypocrite here, since my twitter use has actually increased with the purchase of a new phone–this is because I don’t have data service to use Facebook but I DO have a QWERTY keyboard. Again, it works for me. That will be the key to success for the next generation in using social media–careful selection for the individual.

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