Has Twitter become the Fail Whale?

When I saw Matt Lewis’ column, “Why I Hate Twitter,” in my e-mail, it gave me the first good reason to watch Twitter reaction to anything since the election.  Matt issues a cri de coeur over the ubiquity of the social-media channel, and how its universal reach has demolished its value as a medium of communication and conversation:

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it happened — but at some point, Twitter became a dark place.

It’s a lot like the transformation of the 1960s. It started out being about free love, sharing ideas, and changing the world, but somehow we ended up being more about Altamont and Charles Manson.

Somewhere along the line, our optimism faded.

Once everyone was on Twitter, everyone’s problems were on Twitter. The early adopters might have been tech-utopians, but the succeeding waves were angry cynics and partisan cranks who used the technology to make the world even louder and worse than it was before Twitter.

Compounding the problem is that — unlike everyone else — if you work in journalism, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Being on Twitter is now part of the job, meaning that you can’t not be on Twitter. What was once an inspiring place that gave you a competitive advantage became a prison.

I don’t think my experiences were as intense on the ends of the spectrum as Matt’s, but I do have a sense of his experience.  The difference for me, as opposed to many of my colleagues and friends, is in how I approached Twitter.  I see it more as a water cooler experience rather than an alternative medium for argument and debate.  Yes, I tweet links to my posts, but now the Hot Air admin site does that automatically, so even that need has disappeared.  I mainly use it for personal connections to friends and readers, touching on politics but not as a means for conducting debates.

Perhaps that has kept Twitter from feeling as much like a prison to me, but it has still become increasingly burdensome and less fun than it was. It’s almost impossible to have an intelligent well-informed discussion in 140 characters on nearly any topic of worth.  The 140-character limitation results in more regurgitate bumper-sticker slogans or snarky asides than enlightenment.  Of course, that’s true of many blogs, Facebook updates, and media outlets even without character limits.  In those venues, though, a reader has to search out the inanity; on Twitter, it gets delivered to you automatically, unendingly, and in rapid succession.

I never thought Twitter was Heaven, and I don’t think it’s Hell or the Hotel California.  I don’t have a problem with checking out and leaving for long stretches, but I do enjoy interacting with my friends at the virtual water cooler.  The solution is probably to recast expectations about social-media channels in general and learn to ignore the chaff for the wheat.  In fact, those are good lessons for just about every area of life.