I’m on Twitter. I don’t post with it all that much and I honestly don’t have the knowledge or the inclination to build a larger Twitter presence. It’s a kind of social networking proficiency I’ll never grasp, and that’s okay because for me, Twitter is more about what other people are saying, not what I can say. I’m a little too wordy to ever effectively utilize the medium.
I was one of the countless people who absolutely shit on the idea when I first heard about it. A kind of Facebook Status Update minus all the other features and with a limit of 140 characters? Who would use that, and more importantly, why? It seemed designed for the kind of banal, self-centered, grammar-challenged postings that are the bread and butter of teenagers. Why would anyone want teenagers to have even more ways of expressing their pointless ‘opinions.’
Well, it turns out my kneejerk reaction was ill-informed and hasty. Twitter is full of teenage idiocy (and adult idiocy), certainly, but there is so much more to it than that. From interesting articles to hilarious one-liners and thoughtful conversations, Twitter is actually an impressive and useful amalgamation of all the best things on the internet (it’s also a collective for the worst things, because Twitter is essentially the Cliff Notes of the World Wide Web).
Today alone, my feed has been filled with a couple related but separate conversations that I found endlessly interesting. One was a debate that Michael Ian Black has spurred, anew, about ‘Rape Jokes’ and whether they are ever permissible (a topic I covered during the recent Daniel Tosh kerfuffle). This seems to be one of Twitter (and the internet’s) favorite topics of debate, and while it so often breaks down into histrionics, MIB was making some wonderfully un-hysterical points.
The other was a conflict between Patton Oswalt and Aaron Belz (a man I’ve never heard of until today) because of the latter’s apparent defense of Sammy Rhodes, who Oswalt accused of joke thievery. Rhodes has since taken the particular tweet down, so I don’t actually know which joke it was, but I spent a good amount of time going down the rabbit hole trying to find out. This basically came down to whether or not you were a fan of each respective joke teller, but Oswalt is a bigger name and a more talented debater, so the fight felt pretty one-sided (plus, joke stealing is never okay: If I see something funny, I retweet it directly).
As both topics are hugely contentious subjects among stand up comedians, I read each one of them with quite a bit of fascination (if not at least a little bit of schadenfreude). No, neither topic was going to be settled, but unlike blog posts or comment sections, a Twitter debate has immediacy to it. It’s as close as the internet gets to a coffeeshop debate. Granted, Twitter isn’t the best medium for finely nuanced discussion, but the character restriction does require that participants whittle down their arguments to their most cogent and relevant points (ideally).
I follow plenty of provocative writers and thinkers, including Ezra Klein, Cory Doctorow, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Anonymous to name a few, but comedians and humorists are clearly the most adept to and well-suited for the medium. This isn’t just because Twitter is a natural place for one-liners. As Shakespeare once wrote (or didn’t because SHAKESPEARE IS A LIE), “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Intelligent, funny people tend to know how to get the most humor out of concise thoughts, because nothing kills a joke like an endless, meandering build.*
Even a year ago, I would have said I could give or take my Twitter account. I only created it because I felt like I should have one. I was basically peer pressured into it. But, recently I’ve found that Twitter can be a limitless stream of humorous, insightful and/or challenging thoughts. It’s better than Facebook or Stumbleupon for presenting me with links of interest, not because it’s more refined in its targeting (its a whole lot less refined) but because the sheer number of posts is so massive. And unlike Facebook, it doesn’t attempt to weed out posts based on what it thinks I’ll be interested in, it just gives me everything.
Now, that can be overwhelming from time to time. Sometimes looking at Twitter is like having dozens of magazines and newspapers dropped in my lap. While I’ll never have the time or focus to read every single news item that looks interesting, it’s nice knowing that that repository is there when I want it.
And of course, the power of Twitter’s omnipresence can be both marvelous (See: Political uprisings around the world) and dangerous (See: The Boston Bomber Manhunt), but that’s true of any tool. And that’s just it, Twitter is a tool, neither inherently good or bad. Twitter is a lesson for everyone who claims that technology is ruining society: It’s not about the technology, it’s about who has access to it.
Consider me converted. Humanity created something that seemed solely designed for the frivolous and managed to elevate it to the level of profound discourse. And pictures of food.
Plus, when I just need a good laugh, my Twitter cup overflowth:
*Actually, long jokes are usually my favorite because they require so much of the listener, but you have to be an especially talented storyteller to pull them off.