I really liked this post from Steve Coll on the moral characteristics of communications mediums:
At the Washington Post, I became responsible for thinking about new media. When the World Wide Web exploded in the late nineteen-nineties, some of its possibilities seemed immediately attractive, such as the accessibility of new global audiences and the democratization of documentary video. However, as new social media arose during the Web’s second generation -- blogging, Facebook, Twitter -- I was put off. Because these technologies had qualities that I found unattractive -- loss of privacy, pervasive triviality, the sense of participating like an insect in a pulsing, indiscriminate, conflict-ridden electronic hive -- I assumed initially that the technologies would fail or become marginal. The opposite proved to be the case; if anything, my skepticism or repulsion at the emergence of a new form of social media was a reliable indicator that it would succeed.[...]
In what way do technological systems have moral characteristics? We value books as a technological system (at least, at The New Yorker, we do), but why? In the history of publishing, book writers and readers surely have engaged in as much mendacity, manipulation, triviality, confusion, and wasted time -- as a proportion of the whole endeavor -- as bloggers and tweeters do today. A technological system is as indifferent to the character of its user as dice are to the character of the craps player. And yet the qualities of excellence in a great book do seem specific to the book’s form, and what it requires of its human partner. The book’s disappearance might well herald the diminishment of those qualities in culture.
It took me a long time to warm up to Twitter as a means of public communication. I now count that as one of the serious mistakes I've made as a journalist. If I'd been more open-minded toward the medium at the beginning, I would have had more of a first-mover advantage as it began to grow.
Plus, it turns out that I like Twitter. A lot. My early resistance to the site was because I already used it for private communication and had trouble thinking of it as a public forum. But the best part of Twitter is that it gives you the option of making private or semi-private experiences -- being trapped inside during a snowstorm, or watching Super Bowl commercials -- decidedly public. It's like being able to talk with your friends in a bar, only you don't have to be at the bar, and the range of voices isn't limited to your friends. And then, when you're done, you just turn it off.
The final point worth making is that I can't be the only writer who's really fascinated by the 140 character limit. The amount of mental energy I've sunk into cramming complex thoughts into that paltry text field is considerable, and has always struck me as a real lesson in the powers of concision.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter here.
February 8, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
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