Please Twitter, continue to go forth and be trivial

Continue to stream sound and fury signifying nothing.

Twitter imageThere is a problem with the title of this piece of course. That it assumes there is a single if multi-headed multi-hearted multi-limbed multi – you get the picture – beast wandering about called Twitter. Who has a jealous rival in Facebook and an old now near-reclusive one called MySpace. Except non of these organisations – and did I forget Google Plus but that’s just the problem with Google Plus – everyone forgets about Google Plus – are not sinister shadowy corporations recruiting us against our will to partake in their services. We check in of our own will and we can check back out just as sharpish. Most of us so far at least have chosen to stay.

Most it seems taking pot-shots at Twitter and Facebook and the like – I am going to stick with the catch-all term ‘the like’ here as frankly there are an awful lot of social media sites and perhaps by using this term it might persuade you that I am familiar with each and everyone of them when I am in fact familiar with just a few more than the four already mentioned – are those without Twitter followers, without Facebook friends. But granted there are those who entered, tentatively tweeted and suspiciously begrudgingly updated their statuses, decided it was not for them, made their excuses and left. Their disinterest is understood. So is their disdain. What rankles though is the superior attitude – that because it was not for them it should not be for anyone.

I am reflecting on this following a recent article in the New York Times online by one of their correspondents Timothy Egan on their Opinionator Blog. It was called Please Stop Sharing – and I responded with a comment. This comment was published as one of the Top Picks. I know lights should be hidden firmly beneath bushels yet here I am with scant regard for bushels shining said light of mine before your eyes which are now too busy blinking for me to see whether any disapproval in them.

New York Times Top Pick CommentAs an aside and a nod to humility you will note that said comment saw two words ‘the Telephone’ fused together as one idiotic term. Damn New York Times not allowing me to endlessly edit my own comments after they have been published!

Okay that is not actually the reason for this blog piece – well perhaps a little! – rather to respond further to the assertion of this piece that new social media is obsessed with the trivial and peopled by those who being called a moron would be a compliment too.

Timothy Egan’s piece is quite long but certainly not as long as many pieces you will read in the New York Times. The unwritten old-media law is that with more words comes more weight, more gravitas, more authority. And Twitter with its 140 character limit must then by definition be light, frothy and insubstantial.

But there is no correlation with being wordy and being articulate? Of being verbose and being profound?

That it s always necessary to be profound when it is almost never necessary to be profound.

Twitter is an obvious antidote to verbosity. You have to be succinct – though as an aside that does not stop some Twitterers from scattering their thoughts on a subject across multiple tweets – get a blog already! – and with its strict character limit is an encouragement to clarity as much as to triviality.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker - a tweeter before Twitter?

It is an encouragement too to the aphorism and the epigram – I am sure Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker would have been avid tweeters – though perhaps the opportunity to endlessly expound might have tired even their inexhaustible wit.

But even here there is the suggestion that Tweets must all be smart and significant. As if we should never make throwaway or meaningless remarks. Because that is the other undercurrent of pieces like this that writers of the old media live lives of continual high significance uttering spell-binding observations of the human condition in between their tea and toast, cruising the cultural Zeitgeist the rest of their waking hours before their palpitating head hits their pillow weary under the weight of so much existential exercise.

As if triviality and inconsequence were invented along with social media sites themselves. We – I am using the royal we here and I apologise if I have presumed against you and you yourself are one of those worthy hallow souls of the old apparently anti-social media but then I guess I am just a bit surprised to find you here reading this blog of mine – have always had a tendency for the trivial and the throwaway, of noting and commenting on small things as well as monumental things, and Twitter allows it a greater community, to share without restraint. And this will take on all shapes and forms – views that we don’t always hear or like intrude upon our protected worlds – where some would rather live in a world where their views are as echoes of everyone else’s.

But even then, at any time we can retreat and unfollow those whose insanities and inanities don’t match our own insanities and inanities. We can end up indeed in just the same circumspect carefully chosen company as in the non-digital domain. If that’s what we really want.

My response to the New York Times was nothing like this though – indeed the verboseness of this response would have been more fitting in a letter to that august journal in the days before the first spam Email had been sent (a second after the first Email had been sent)…whereas my actual response was succinct, not Tweeting succinct, but as good as.

What is also notable about it is that despite the Top Pick status accorded it, it has not elicited even one response – I would like to think the readers of the NYT were dumbstruck by my own revelatory brilliance and unsettling wit but alas more likely it was met with universal indifference as they stifled a yawn before quickly skipping onto the next – ahem! – non Top Pick comment.

And perhaps ironically, though it has had the recommendation of the Editors of the column it has had no recommendation from its readers. Pah! Perhaps the old asocial media high-bred hacks know better than their Hoi-polloi readers afterall!

The New York Times – Pay Up…

On Thursday I received an Email from the New York Times or more specifically its publisher announcing that from March 28 I would have to pay to read its content beyond an allowed 20 articles per month.

I have already experienced this with the Financial Times where I am now similarly restricted to how much of their content I can read per month.

I am not unsympathetic – they are a business not a charity, their writers and other contributors need to be paid and I understand that ad-supported content can only support an online journal so far.  But I am also a consumer on a budget with the ostensibly no brainer decision of choosing between content I can get for free and similar content for a fee.

Why would I and any other consumer pay for content in this context?

Bush House home of The BBC World Service

State taxation funded media such as the BBC in the UK is a huge provider of free and trusted online content – when presented with such content the idea that many readers will get out their credit cards and go in search of similar content from a private competitor is stretching credulity.

What can they provide that is value added?  Perhaps specialized content?

But even here specialists are still competing with other specialists that provide similar content for free – New Scientist use to offer a lot of their content for free now they restrict what can be seen – I used to pay for their print journal so was not averse to paying for it in digital form – that is until I happened across Scientific American which offers me similar content for free.  So I never did subscribe to the New Scientist nor have I yet to have paid a penny for the FT and am doubtful I will be paying a cent for the New York Times either.

As well as a reader of content I am also a producer with this blog and all of it is available to read for free for any of you that should happen to stumble upon it, this one blog in a sea of blogs – certainly as an unknown writer I am in no position to charge for others to read this content – this blog would be even less read than it is now.

If then a journal is well known, well respected, well loved can it expect that its readers will pay to read its content?  For the New York Times would I pay to read the articles of writers I admire such as Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd.

I think the payment structure has to be pretty micro – this in itself is still a reasonable business proposition – content is much cheaper to produce online and the potential readership much larger so even small payments would soon add up.

I wonder even a model practiced by some software providers with donate ware – you can read the content for free but if you liked what you read you can make a donation of whatever size on the content page.

So content costs but will it pay?  You can watch this space – but at what price?!