[Air-L] Twittering

Alex Randall alex at islands.vi
Mon Nov 2 13:23:33 PST 2009

> Rhiannon Bury said:
> The form and established practice lend themselves to trivial 
> communication. As with all forms of popular communication and culture, 
> there are associated pleasures.
> The real issue here in my mind is the negative value we assign to 
> triviality.

Is it all trivial?
Seems like the vast majorith of tweets are banal and trivial, yet I am 
struck by the posts that are breaking news, eyewitness accounts and some 
posts that read like a mix of haiku and scientific paper titles.
Some of this stuff is downright profound, but mixed with millions of peoples 
trivia, it is like trying to find a molecule of heavy water in the stream of 
a fire hose.

I was prepared to dismiss Twitter when I first saw it.
Profoundly stupid, I thought.
Who can reduce their thoughts to 140 characters.

Now I am beginning to see people really reducing the blather of their e-mail 
and blog posts and get their stuff down to its essence.
Twitter may change the way we write.
It may be feeding right into the culture of the instant.
None of this twitter lasts.

When my father courted my mother in the 1940's - they wrote letters.
Ideas moved at the pace of envelopes with stamps.
Yet, I can still sit down with a shoebox of love letters and read the back 
and forth.
Paper is for the ages.
My son courts his girlfriend in IM and Tweets.
None of it lasts.
It falls off the bottom of the screen after a few folks post their latest 
tweets and there is no record, no history.

One wonders what historians of this era will use as primary sources...
MS Word no longer supports the data files of the 1980's.
As if that company could disconnect me from my own writing without asking my 

Try to read files from 8 inch floppy disks and you have to ask the 
Smithsonian for the use of their machines in glass cases.
All that era is inaccessible.

In 2000, I put a CD in a time capsule.
Same year they opened a time capsule in Colorado from 1900.
Inside were gold foil cylinders from an original Edison phonograph.
Off to the Smithsonian to listen to them.
I wonder if anyone in 100 years will be able to read my CD?

I wonder if anyone will be able to even find the tweets of today, tomorrow.
We are arriving in a culture of the instant.
and in an instant - it will be gone.

Alex Randall
Professor of Communication
University of the Virgin Islands.

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