Why Twitter’s Oral Culture Irritates Bill Keller (and why this is an important issue)

Bill Keller of the New York Times has just written a provocative piece lamenting that new technologies are eroding essential human characteristics. I would certainly agree that almost all technologies, especially those with a cognitive element, transform the way we organize, value and manage our intellectual and social lives–-indeed, such complaints were raised, most famously by Plato about how writing was emptying words of their soul by disconnecting them from their living speakers. However, Keller makes not one but at least three distinct claims in his piece. I want to primarily discuss the one that he makes least explicitly and perhaps has never formulated directly himself.

But first, let’s clarify the other two which are explicit.

First Keller talks about how we no longer need to remember everything and how his father used to use a slide rule and now there are calculators and who knows their multiplication table anymore… This is a familiar argument from cognitive replacement and I believe it is worth discussing not necessarily because there is something inherently wrong with machines making certain cognitive tasks easier, but I do deeply worry about what this means for valuing humans. Cheaper computers increasingly capable of taking over human tasks means that we face a profound human problem: how will we deal with the billions of people who will be potentially redundant if the only way of measuring a human’s worth is their price on the labor market? For me, this is an important political question rather than a technological lament. It’s not about what machines can do, it’s about the criteria by which we judge the worth of our fellow human beings, and how advances information technology increasingly leads us to devalue each other.

Second, Keller argues that “there is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter.” This line of argument, that our social ties are being hollowed out by digital sociality, is also fairly common. I’d like to start by saying that it is not supported by empirical research. Almost all research I have seen shows that people who are social online tend to be social offline, or at most the effect is neutral, and that most people interact socially online with people with whom they also interact offline—i.e. the relationship between online and offline sociality is mostly one of complement and reinforcement rather than displacement and replacement. Increasing numbers of people even make connections online which then they turn into offline connections (See Wang and Wellman, for example), so that even actual “virtual” connections –which I have just argued are less common—are valuable for many communities who otherwise do not have abundant peers around them, say cancer patients or gay youth in small towns.

I do, however, agree that the integration of digital sociality is transforming our social networks, but I believe the worst off are not those who do use these social media platforms but those who are unable or unwilling to get on Facebook or similar tools or use them effectively – such folks are in grave danger of falling out of rhythms of sociality of their social networks. The effect is particularly exacerbated if one is in a vertically-integrated social network—i.e. if all your friends and relatives are still using the phone and mailing out the postcards and invitations, you are fine. However, if most of your social circle is now taken to chatting about everything on Facebook and sending out email invites, and you are sitting by the phone, that’s not a good situation. I am hoping to write longer and more about this topic of social isolation and digital connectivity so let’s leave this one, for the moment, at least.

But here are the parts of Keller’s comments which have intrigued me and convinced me to write this post: (quote order mixed, original here).

My mistrust of social media is intensified by the ephemeral nature of these communications. They are the epitome of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, which was my mother’s trope for a failure to connect.

Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant. Following an argument among the Twits is like listening to preschoolers quarreling: You did! Did not! Did too! Did not!

In an actual discussion, the marshaling of information is cumulative, complication is acknowledged, sometimes persuasion occurs. In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others’ opinions are stunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid.

The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.


… Then along came the Mark Zuckerberg of his day, Johannes Gutenberg. As we became accustomed to relying on the printed page, the work of remembering gradually fell into disuse.


But this comparison between Gutenberg and Zuckerberg makes little sense unless you realize that Keller is actually trying to complain about the reemergence of oral psychodynamics in the public sphere rather than about memory falling out of favor. If the latter were the case, his ire would be more about Google; instead, most of his frustration is directed against social media, and mostly Twitter, the most conversational, and thus most oral of these mediums.

The key to understanding this is that while writing did displace the value of memory, the vast abundance of printed material it did something else also, something less remarked upon, both to the shape of our public sphere and also to our psychodynamics. It replaced the natural, visceral human oral psychodynamics with those of literate and written ones. Most of us are so awash in this new form that we notice it as much as fish notice water; however, writing is but a blip and the printed from a flash in human history. Orality, on the other hand, is perhaps the most human of our characteristics, and ironically, the comeback of which into the public sphere is the one Keller is lamenting while worrying about losing our human characteristics. What he seems to actually mean is that, with the advent of writing and printing, we *acquired* these new cognitive tools and novel psychodynamic [and I should note that they never took that much root in most recesses of culture and thus remain fragile] and they are threatened by social media which re-introduces older forms which, of course, never died out but receded from public importance.

Here I am going to be drawing upon scholarship of Walter Ong and others who distinguish the characteristics of oral societies with those which are dominated by writing—and Europe and the United states are thoroughly dominated by the written culture even though oral culture is still with us because orality is deeply and intrinsically human; all human societies are also oral cultures. (This is true even for Deaf communities; the only difference is their orality is visual, not spoken). Primary orality refers to cultures which are untouched by writing whereas residual orality is cultures like ours where writing dominates even our speaking.

The oral world is ephemeral, exists only suspended in time, supported primarily through interpersonal connections, survives only on memory, and rather than building final, cumulative works, it is aimed at conversation and remembering knowledge by rendering it memorable, which can often mean snarky, witty, rhythmic and rhyming. (Think poet slams rather than essays).

In oral psychodynamics, the conversational, formulaic styling dominates (which aides memory) as well as back-and-forth, redundancy, an emphasis on being less analytic and more aggregative, being more additive rather than developing complex and subordinate clauses (classic example is the Genesis which, like Homer’s Odyssey, is indeed an oral work which was later written down). Oral pschodynamics also tend to be more antogonistic, interpersonal and participatory. (Wikipedia does a pretty good job of summarizing these arguments but I strongly advise reading Ong’s Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word for a more thorough treatment—though I have some issues with Ong’s arguments I think they are well worth taking seriously).

Sounds a lot like social media, does it not? In fact, Andy Carvin often refers to his Twitter reporting as part preserving oral history, and I think he is spot on. This distinction is probably a bit harder to observe in the English Twitter-verse since English is so thoroughly colonized by writing. Whenever I dive into the Turkish Twitter, I notice tweets employing many forms of Turkish which are solely found in oral Turkish and almost never written down in literate culture. I think this distinction may be more visible in other societies where oral culture was not as decisively beaten back as in the English speaking world — this makes it harder to explain the issue in English. (Although I think the so-called “black-tags” fit very well into oral culture traditions and is likely reflective of the fact that African-Americans are more steeped in oral culture due to their history in this country. Farhad Manjoo once examined this issue concluding that these witty, snarky, back-and-forth became trending topics because African-Americans on Twitter tend to be in denser, interconnected networks (small world networks, so to speak). However, that explains the how, not the why. The strong phatic nature of these “black-tags” points to oral culture as their root.

The difference between oral language and written language is also why bad scripts in movies sound so stilted and written transcripts often look so funny. Those bad script writers are stuck in literate English rather than the spoken word. Oral/spoken language is related to but different from written language, and not just in phrases and grammar but also in mood, effect and rhythms.

What we are seeing with social media is the public sphere, hitherto dominated by written culture, has been more opened up to oral psychodynamics. And this is particularly difficult to deal with for intellectuals who rely on their competence with, and dominance of, the written form as hallmark of their place in society. (As I will argue, there are reasons to be concerned but it is important to separate these issues). Also, television, too, is secondary literacy in that television acts in a way which assumes and implies writing. (I am not going to go into this at length here but there is a lot of work on this topic, starting with Ong).

So, should we be concerned? Does this raise problems? Yes and no. A good chunk of social media is dominated by social grooming. And social grooming is definitely rooted in oral psychodynamics; however, there probably isn’t more of it because of social media but it’s just more visible. This is nothing to be alarmed at. Let me quote from my review of Carr’s book:

Which brings me to another common complaint which Carr does not highlight as much but which I have been hearing more often lately. What about all the “crap” on the Internet? The silly cat pictures, the trivial Twitter updates, the banal Facebook postings, the million Youtube videos of pets, kids, household accidents, pranks, etc.? Surely, that is evidence of intellectual decline?

That, my dear friends, is called humanity. That’s what humans do. We are a deeply social species and we engage in “social grooming” all the time, i.e. acts that have no particular informational importance but are about connecting, forming, displaying and strengthening bonds, affirming and challenging status, creating alliances, gossiping, exchanging tidbits about rhythms of life. I personally doubt that there is substantially more social grooming going on today, on average, compared to the pre-Internet era. The only difference is that the Internet makes it visible. What used to be spoken is now written and published potentially for the world to see. That’s it. There isn’t more or less of it.

I think all the horror and outrage at txtspeak and other unconventional spelling is part of this story. I think this is mostly turf wars by the literate classes against the encroaching oral culture. English spelling is quirky, illogical and result of historical accidents. If the Great Vowel Shift had not happened when it did, we might have had a reasonable system worth defending. Yes, I, too, am a product of this system, and I, too, cringe at “c u l8r.” However, I suspect I just need to get over it just as any logical, reasonable learner of English has to get over her horror of the fact that “tough” “thought” “through”, and“thorough” are all spelled so similarly when they sound so different. A lof this angst is about conventions, and conventions evolve which always horrifies those who have acquired privilege and power by mastering certain conventions while dismissing others. Cultural capital, in other words.

But, I do share some concerns. Oral pyschodynamics are not well-suited to specific kinds of public discourse which are based in affordances of writing, especially long-form writing. Let me again quote from an earlier critique of the iPad I wrote:

Writing, especially writing at length is a different modality of thought than talking and it also allows a different kind of exchange and discourse. (I refer specially to the scholarship of Neil Postman and Walter Ong.) As Postman argues, writing and the spread of the printed word through literacy and the printing press created a culture in which it is possible to debate ideas at length and produce analytic thought which can be produced, advanced, discussed, refuted, rejected, improved and otherwise churned through the public sphere. As Postman writes in Amusing Ourselves to Death: “almost all of the characteristics we associate with the mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively, and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; and abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.” (p.63).

In other words, I do believe those Twitter-like environments are not well-suited to certain kinds of complex argument development and closure. It’s not solely because they are social but that is part of the picture.

The pressure to provide the memorable quote (so that one gets retweeted, the Twitter equivalent of the oral psychodynamic of striving to be remembered); the ephemerality of the conversations and the difficulty of making sense of those which one did not participate in (just like spoken ones); the length limit (just like the oral world since it is hard to have a conversation paragraphs or pages at a time), the visceral, interpersonal nature of the discussion do mean that a world in which Twitter became the sole means of discussing important public issues would indeed be a poorer one. There is great need to preserve and expand the long form through not just newspapers but through blogs and other forms.

However, Twitter and other such tools also present a great opportunity to bring into the public sphere, and into important conversations, greater number of people who would otherwise be excluded. Rather than seeing this as a turf war in which the literate classes must defend their turf against the barbarians at the gate, the questions should be how we can preserve the better aspects of the ideal of the reasoned, complex and rational public sphere without descending into elitism. (I say the ideal because, as Dave Parry often points out, usually on Twitter, the Habermassian ideal of the public sphere, well, never really was).

I see the recent interest in “storify” and other curation and preservation tools as an important step in this direction of integrating oral social media with the rest of the public sphere. I think there should be an effort to preserve longer-form blogging and not abandon it in favor of the quick exchange of Twitter (as Anil Dash said, it [almost] does not exist if you did not blog it). I think rather than dismissing Keller’s concerns, the digiterati should dig into this unease shared by many members of the literate classes and take apart the various issues.

And Bill Keller should understand that, at its best, Twitter is not a broadcast medium but a medium of conversation. What he has done so far on Twitter is the equivalent of walking into a party and saying a provocative sentence, followed by sitting at the corner sipping his cocktail – as in “#twittermakesyoustupid. Discuss.” Social encounters are satisfying and worth mostly to the degree that one participates in conversations, rather than announces witticisms and withdraws. Yes, I am a professor but I do not walk into random rooms and expect people to quietly take notes on what I am saying while I launch into a speech, projecting my voice to the back of the room. Keller cannot understand this medium if he treats it as something different than what it is, and to understand requires participation in its indigenous form, conversation.

I thus urge the Literati to come join the social media conversation with the understanding that some of their strengths will not be as valued, that they will need to relearn certain skills, and some parts of the experience will be annoying – but just like some good literature, it often takes some effort to grasp the value of a new form. I think the literate should accept that this is now an inseparable part of the public sphere and increasing numbers of people who were otherwise excluded can now be heard; yes, they don’t always think or say what I wish people thought or said but what else is new? Given the complexities of the issues facing humanity, engaging this expanded public sphere is of crucial importance to anyone concerned about how we, as humans, will continue to live our lives, socially, economically and politically.

And I urge the Digerati not to always dismiss these anxieties as signs of “get of my lawn” malady. Certainly, I occasionally get that sense that as well, but this is an opportunity have significant discussions on the ongoing reshaping of global networked public spheres. This debate needs to happen based more on substance rather than sides and turfs and their defense.


64 thoughts on “Why Twitter’s Oral Culture Irritates Bill Keller (and why this is an important issue)

  1. Pingback: Twitter in education | Distributed Learning at Fuller Seminary

  2. Moses Wolfenstein

    You make an interesting argument, but there are aspects of social media in general and Twitter in particular that strike me as being distinctly unlike oral/spoken language. First there’s the asynchronous nature of these tools. While some people will fire off tweets without giving them much thought, others will spend time composing a tweet which makes for a very different type of exchange than the sort that occurs when language is spoken. I see it as hybrid in a sense, fusing various aspects of both written and oral communication.

    The other aspect that stands out to me is the 140 character limit on Twitter. While people certainly don’t spout pages of content in oral interaction, they often express themselves in phrases that require substantially more than 140 characters. Facebook of course, doesn’t have this constraint, and as a result it seems to me that conversations on Facebook (among my contacts) often resemble oral interactions in a way that Twitter exchanges don’t really. Most Twitter conversations tend to resemble exchanges by SMS (no shock given Twitter’s roots), which are distinctly unlike oral communication as they are often stripped down and generally don’t afford space for the types of embellishments that oral interaction affords.

    Then of course there is the hypertextual (my that sounds quaint) nature of exchanges in these media. This is distinctly unlike oral communication, but also unlike prior textual traditions. Linking content allows us to say, “Go here, take in this other piece of media, then come back and comment if you like.” IMHO, unlike the hybrid oral/written aspect of these media, the integration of masses of content that are visual, musical, cinematic, etc. makes communication with these tools something truly distinct.

    1. Sedate Me

      “The other aspect that stands out to me is the 140 character limit…While people certainly don’t spout pages of content in oral interaction, they often express themselves in phrases that require substantially more than 140 characters. – Moses Wolfenstein

      Actually, it’s surprising how long transcripts of oral social conversations can get.

      You’ve hit upon an inherit weaknesses of the “Twitter as oral conversation” argument. The rigid and confining nature of the format doesn’t remotely resemble an actual oral conversation. Any man out there should try telling his significant other that her next verbal conversation will be limited to 140 characters. Undoubtedly, her response wouldn’t fit into a Tweet and you’d be lucky if your ears stopped burning within 140 hours.

      Real conversations have natural ebbs and flows. The length of each participant’s contributions vary widely, depending on what they seek to communicate at any given moment. In a real conversation, an individual could prattle on with little or no interruption for the equivalent of, not just pages, but chapters at a time.

      No social conversation involves such highly structured, length-regimented, exchanges. Twitter’s artificial structure seeks to force the square pegs of human interaction into round holes. Unlike the more flexible give & take of human conversations, Twitter “conversations” operate more like guns firing uniform sized bullets until all clips are empty. Actually, the one manner of human conversation Twitter seems best suited for is the kind that occurs during combat.

      The Twitter format would probably be much better suited to conversations between robots than between humans. It’s almost as if the machines are training us to conform to their ways. And many humans are.

  3. Dave Wilcox

    Having engaged in a littler bit of Twitter dialogue directed at Mr. Keller’s “#Twittermakesyoustupid. Discuss” tweet last week, I found your essay to be both instructive (as in looking at the many sides of this argument) and informative (as in nudging me to find a copy of Ong’s book for my summer reading stack).

    I had not read Keller’s magazine piece until seeing your post, and actually appreciate,but don’t necessarily buy into, his point of view. As one who spends much of my time researching social networks and the behaviors that are associated with them, I am inclined to agree with your points here. Thanks for such a thoughtful piece.

  4. Pingback: Voices Worth Amplifying: Links for 5-19-11 | The Meta-Activism Project

  5. Chris

    Enjoyed your thoughtful insights on the “Twitter trap.” I definitely agree with your assertions that mediums such as Twitter have many roots in oral, rather than written, language.

    Very few 140-character statements can stand alone as intelligent or groundbreaking ideas, yet this simplicity makes it easy to contribute to wider discussions and break geographic or physical boundaries that previously made such dialogue impossible. It is true that some people I engage with on Twitter I know only in this online realm. I view social media as a supplement to my social life and career aspirations, not a replacement.

  6. Mike Caulfield

    Nicely argued, and I think I’m in agreement with almost all of it. But given I’m digerati and long ago sold on the shift from mass communication to mass conversation being for the most part beneficial, I particular appreciate your plea to the digerati to understand this culture we are building this stuff on top of comes largely from a culture based around extended written exposition.

    Science, engineering, politics, religion — almost every feature of the modern age we live in was shaped by understandings and social architecture made possible by print culture. I’m not saying the re-emergence of oral culture significantly threatens those things, but one can see why some people might be nervous.

  7. Jerrold Maddox

    Why do you and Bill Keller act like Europe is the only literate culture and that printing was invented in Europe?

    Why no mention of the Chinese or the Mayans for other forms of writing?

    And the Chinese and Koreans for what they did with print before Gutenberg?

    And what about the Japanese and their widely reported use of twitter to write novels?

  8. Stephen Malagodi

    Terrific piece.

    Though it’s off-topic, I want to highlight something you mentioned in passing.

    “I do deeply worry about what this means for valuing humans. Cheaper computers increasingly capable of taking over human tasks means that we face a profound human problem: how will we deal with the billions of people who will be potentially redundant if the only way of measuring a human’s worth is their price on the labor market?

    This is extraordinarily important. We can see that, especially since the industrial revolution, the value of human labor, in a macro-economic view, is constantly decreasing. As technology becomes more pliant, adaptable and ‘intelligent’, the economic contribution of ‘labor’ decreases as population increases. So the question becomes, what is a human being worth when their labor is worthless? How do we value human beings outside of the industrial economy. (Artists, poets and musicians understand this equation very well, as their work is more often than not regarded as ‘having no economic value’.)

    Allen Ginsberg put this quite humorously in his 1959 poem America: “America, when will I be able to go into the supermarket and get what I need with my good looks?”

    1. kevin bryant

      depends on how one defines “labor”. i think the shift is more from muscle matter to grey matter. skills of creative thinking, innovation, process management, engineering, biophysics, etc. are all part of the new labor requirement.

  9. Pingback: White House turns to Twitter to discuss President Obama’s Middle East speech | Gov 2.0: The Power of Platforms

  10. Jerrold Maddox

    I’d like to suggest that reading The Tale of Genji would be revealing in how twitter like exchanges in notes are such a central part of the narrative – about 1000 years ago.

  11. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » links for 2011-05-19

  12. Jenn

    I love what you wrote here! I am so sick of reflexive Luddite criticisms of social media. It’s really not going anywhere.

    1. Sedate Me

      Funny. I’m sick to death of reflexive Technophile worship of every new tech-related good & service. Don’t they know any of these things could really go away at any second? All these things are instantly replaceable and will be utterly forgotten long before horse drawn carriages are. (Friendster, anyone?)

      If you read Mr Keller’s piece, you’d know he has both a Facebook and Twitter account. No self-respecting Luddite would ever publicly admit to having either, never mind both. Clearly, he is either a deeply self-hating Luddite, or not one at all.

      All Mr Keller seems to be doing is voicing (largely good natured) concern over where we are headed and what we may be leaving behind. Yet, in our society full of mindless electric sheep, such contemplation evokes high levels of criticism.

  13. Dean Barker

    So in my day job I teach Classics, and in my off-time I am involved with blogging/twittering online political activism.

    What I think what was so enjoyable and perceptive about this piece is its understanding (in a way the Kellers of the world, trapped in the previous, still dominant paradigm, can’t) of the emergence of a new type of oral culture while at the same time putting it in the context of how literacy emerged onto human history.

    Or to put it another way: I spend a fair amount of time with Homer, whose works are songs from a pre-literate culture but which arrived to me millenia later on the printed page. And also I spend a fair amount of time on, e.g., Twitter, with digital words that are in effect building a new kind of oral culture. Both phenomena are oral traditions through a vessel of literacy, and they complement each other.

    In general I think the Greeks and Romans, who lived much closer to the beginnings of literacy in the West, and whose literature is so dependent on oral culture, public speaking, performance, etc… would be much more comfortable with the digital revolution and the oral culture it’s facilitating than we later peoples are.

  14. Pingback: Twitter a diwylliant llafar | Hacio'r Iaith

  15. Pingback: This Week in Review: What Twitter does to us, Google News gets more local, and making links routine » Nieman Journalism Lab » Pushing to the Future of Journalism

  16. Pingback: Welcome to Our Party For You – Stuntbox

  17. Kimon Keramidas

    Interesting analysis, but I really think you are selling short the mediation that occurs in Twitter and how that infact moves Twitter farther away from oral socialdynamics. As the other commenters have noted, the 140 characters, hyperlinkability, and asynchronous nature of Twitter make it closer to a mediated broadcast performance of brief scripted moments rather than the kind of orality you are implying. Are not hastags, netspeak, MTs, RTs, etc. new forms of writing that have specific purposes that can’t really be tied to orality? In many ways one could argue that rather than reengaging with the flow of oral conversation, Twitter has taken human conversation in the direction of coded speak that is more technologically determined and mediated than even the book. Take this tweet by the Met Museum today:

    Open bar + exclusive viewings of #McQueen & the fabulous roof + dancing=Young Members Party. Join us: http://met.org/mI0fEW #YMP

    That is more like a line of computer code than a more authentic form of human communication. Furthermore it is designed as a piece of broadcast information meant to be retweeted and disseminated technically. It is not part of a conversation that is ingested and reexpressed through continued conversations because it contains necessary information and has taken up the 140 character limit. I also think that much of the type of oral communication that you argue occurs on Twitter has always occurred in written form. Think of notes passed in class, written on sticky notes in offices, or put with magnets on refrigerators. Exposure to these things however has been isolated to small groups and therefore not significant for commentary or able to be studied. What is important about Twitter is that it is technological and mediated, and because of its scale it is noticeable and able to be studied and even algorithmically analyzed. But that doesn’t mean it is returning us to a pre-technological state of communication. Rather the opposite is true, it has colonized short form communication with technology and writing paradigms, and those cursory spaces of writing and communication that had long flown under the radar and had probably been more like the oral dynamics you argue Twitter enables have been incorporated into a more highly mediated society.

    I think that Keller’s piece is wrongheaded and reactionary in many ways, but we should also be wary of thinking that such highly technological and mediated are going to return us to some more authentic, more natural state of communication that preceded these technologies or even those technologies of writing.

  18. Pingback: It Isn’t The Same Thing. | Jarred Taylor • com

  19. Christian Vandendorpe

    Many thanks for this very good analysis exposing the weakness of Keller’s jeremiad. Your reference to Walter Ong’s book is quite pertinent (by the way, this book is available in a Kindle edition).

    Twitter’s aim is not to replace the long form essay, and it is quite disingenuous from Keller’s part to launch a discussion on Twitter in a 140 characters format (“#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” : a formulation which evokes a high school teacher).

    Clearly, Twitter is not the place for making any kind of analysis but it is very good for drawing our attention to blogs, essays, articles and books which are of interest for one of the persons we are following. Far from killing the long form essay,
    Twitter makes it more relevant, by placing it into a social context. One could say, metaphorically, that Twitter is the social lubricant in a knowledge culture, helping individuals to regroup into communities and to share with others their discoveries and their enthusiasms.

  20. Pingback: Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning | Weekend reading: What a week for Twitter!

  21. Pingback: Aktuelles 23. Mai 2011

  22. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Twitter’s Online Oral Psychodynamics

  23. Pingback: Science Communication and Public Engagement: What Can Twitter Tell Us? « David Waldock's Blog

  24. JOANNE

    SURE the NY Times is not going to like the masses twittering. They would rather shove the lies down your throat with a captive audience. Twitter is revolution. People not accepting the BS and getting the truth out in all different formats to intelligent people who crave Justice.

  25. Pingback: Why Twitter’s Oral Culture Irritates Bill Keller (and why this is an important issue) « Learning Change

  26. Pingback: Atlantic launches Twitter book club; debate rages over the oral impact of social media; and journalists say technology has changed how they report news | David I Hamilton

  27. Pingback: Blogging vs. Academic Writing

  28. Pingback: Oral Culture, Literate Culture, Twitter Culture | Culture news

  29. Pingback: Zeynep Tufekci, Sociology, in The Atlantic |

  30. Pingback: Is oral culture back? « TackyTechy

  31. Pingback: Is Twitter writing, or is it speech? Why we need a new paradigm for our social media platforms » Nieman Journalism Lab » Pushing to the Future of Journalism

  32. Daniel Beaver-Seitz

    “Almost everyone who had anything profound to say in response to my little provocation chose to say it outside Twitter.”

    I’m going out on a limb with my interpretation of the above, but Keller provided little indication of why he stated it. My suspicion is that he followed it in his mind with “because you can’t say anything profound on Twitter,” which if it were so, would betray a real misunderstanding of the role of Twitter.

    He doesn’t seem to understand that it is like any medium, with affordances that make it appropriate for some tasks, but not for others. Because people are not able to compress their thoughts on a medium with complex attributes and effects, he seems to believe that there is little point in the use of that mechanism.

    I wouldn’t use the US Postal Service to see if a friend wanted to go to a movie tonight, or the phone to tell all my acquaintances my thoughts on last night’s episode of a TV show, but that does not diminish the value of either of those media. Keller seems to miss this rather important point and absent that understanding, the rest of his argument is weakened.

  33. Doug K

    thank you, that is an illuminating new perspective. However I tend to agree with Kimon, Twitter is better understood as a ‘mediated broadcast performance’ than an oral conversation.

    Facebook = social grooming and phatic utterances
    seems quite right to me.

  34. Pingback: Is Twitter Like Speech or Like Writing? The Answer Is Yes | Writing to Success

  35. Pingback: Is Twitter Like Speech or Like Writing? The Answer Is Yes | TechDiem.com

  36. Pingback: Is Twitter Like Speech or Like Writing? The Answer Is Yes — Tech News and Analysis

  37. Pingback: Twitter: gekwetter of gekribbel? | crossmediamanagement.be

  38. Pingback: Twitter canaliza el renacer del aforismo - UOC periódico

  39. Pingback: Line between online and offline life continues to blur — Tech News and Analysis

  40. Pingback: Current Conversations & Debate :: bugs

  41. Bill Keller

    Dear Zeynep,

    I’m sorry to be so slow — at least by Twitter standards — in getting back to you. I thought before I responded I would try to read some of the research you sent my way. Having spent a couple of hours immersed in the material, I’ll give you my non-scientist’s response. But first, pause for a second to review the narrative of the past day, because it illustrates a point I’ve made on several occasions about Twitter — which I love, but don’t worship uncritically.
    So, Anthony DeRosa Tweets a link to an interview in which I make a comment about Facebook. You send out a Tweet chiding me on the grounds that my remark is refuted by evidence. I chide you back for not linking to any of the evidence you have in mind. You Tweet links to a mountain of social science. The Twittersphere — before I can respond to you, and I think I can safely say without actually reading the voluminous science you have provided — applauds you for nailing me. Does this fit your definition of an enlightening discussion? Or is it more like fans at a sporting event hooting for their favorite players? Twitter is good for many things, but I’m not convinced it’s an ideal platform for serious conversation.
    Just to review, my remark that provoked your response was: “The time you spend keeping up with your 200 Facebook friends is time you are not getting to know someone really well in person.” This is, of course, a difficult statement to challenge. The time you spend doing one thing is, by definition, time you are not spending doing something else. But you clearly did not mean to challenge the literal truth of my remark. As best I can tell, you where challenging what you perceived to be my implication: that Facebook is an impediment to friendship.
    Was that my implication? Not really. What I’ve actually said about Facebook — in a column, a blog discussion with Nick Bilton, the interview with DeRosa and elsewhere — can be summed up this way: Social media, like all new things, come with benefits and costs. The benefits are abundant and may well outweigh the costs, but users of new technology should not shy away from discussing the tradeoffs. My sense of Facebook, not based on research but based on some experience and observation, is that for some people Facebook creates a kind of friendship that is more superficial than the kind that grows out of hours spent together in one another’s company. Of course, social media is a way to keep in touch with real friends and expand your network of more casual, less intimate relationships. But it also makes it possible to feel like you have a meaningful social life when, in reality, you are missing something. I did not offer this as a scientific fact but as an observation and a concern.
    The studies you sent me had a lot of interesting material, but they did not address my concern. For starters, many of them predate the explosion of social media. A handful are as recent as 2010, but mostly they reference work done in 2006, 2004, 2002, even 1997. They are about “the Internet,” or email, or mobile phone use.
    More important, these studies mostly define friendship as “network size.” Typical was this argument from Wang and Wellman:
    “Friendship is still abundant. In 2002 and 2007, American adults had on average about 10 friends whom they met or spoke with at least weekly, with a few additional virtual friends and migratory friends. Despite the scholarly cautions and media panics, our data suggest that almost everyone has social ties whom they contact on a regular basis. People’s friendship network sizes vary depending on their Internet use or nonuse. In general, Internet users do not have fewer offline friends than do nonusers, as the panic- stricken media have feared.”
    Likewise the Hampton/Sessions 2008 study of “Core Networks, Social Isolation, and New Media” finds no correlation between Internet and mobile phone use and “social isolation” (defined as people who can’t name anyone “with whom you discussed matters that are important to you.”) They report that people who spend time online have more contacts with such people.
    Likewise the Boase 2006 study “The Strength of Internet Ties” — which looked both at the number of contacts and the regularity of contacts.
    The number and diversity of your friends is not insignificant, but it’s not relevant to my point, which concerns the quality of friendships, not the quantity. I’ve never questioned that social media are excellent for reach. I have suggested that in many cases they are not conducive to depth.
    So, I’m happy that my columns and comments have provoked interest and aroused argument. I LIKE argument. But you’re arguing with a point I never made.
    And now I have to go earn a pay check.

  42. Paul Fernhout

    “Cheaper computers increasingly capable of taking over human tasks means that we face a profound human problem: how will we deal with the billions of people who will be potentially redundant if the only way of measuring a human’s worth is their price on the labor market? For me, this is an important political question rather than a technological lament.”

    I generally agree, and here is a presentation I put together about that (there is a PDF version liked at the youtube site that is quicker to read):
    “Five Interwoven Economies: Subsistence, Gift, Exchange, Planned, and Theft. ”

    Basically I suggest there have always been five interwoven economies (or economic transactions) of which the exchange is only one, and the balance between those economies will shift with cultural changes (including politics) and technological changes.

  43. Pingback: Twitter y el regreso de los sūtra « Hijo de Vecino

  44. Pingback: Is Social Media The End of Endings? « Groundswell

  45. Pingback: Twitter, Academic Conversation, and the Research Paper « Lisa 2.0

  46. Pingback: A Few Favorite Blogs about (Educational) Technology | Agile Learning

  47. Pingback: Love in a Time of Algorithms - Posted on November 21st, 2011 by Barbara Fister

  48. Pingback: Wireless Void | Darren Hoyt Dot Com

  49. Pingback: The BIGBible Project | Orality? #digidisciple (@drgeorgemorley)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *