Eric Etheridge of New York Times blog The Opinionator observed yesterday that Twitter users are experiencing rapid burnout. After only a week and a half, Oprah is already bored with Twitter, and she’s not alone. The Neilson media ratings company estimates that more than 60% of Twitter users quit tweeting in under a month. After the first wave of full-blown Twittermania, it’s beginning to seem like people just don’t know what to do with the ability to constantly express themselves in 140 characters or less.
Twitter’s apparent pointlessness has emerged as a major rile-factor for Twitter haters. Case in point: Pomona’s own Nick Hubbard, whose opinion piece “The Problem With Twitter” appeared in last week’s issue of The Student Life:
You send text messages–in Twitter lingo, these are called “tweets”–constantly updating your “followers” about what you are doing. That is it, just mindless texting and following. Absolutely nothing of practical value. This is so… awful. Twitter is making America dumber, up to 140 characters at a time.
Hubbard’s piece is problematic in a variety of ways: He’s prone to sweeping generalizations (Twitter users are “boring, talentless idiots”–that’s right, even the senators!) and facile insults: for example, targeting “teenage girls” on the Internet as a “waste of space,” or the fact that the piece originally appeared with the title “Twitter: the Jersey Shore of the Internet,” an utterly pointless low blow which TSL editors apparently saw fit to omit in the online version.
Hubbard resorts to these tactics because–despite the grand sentiment of the new, Jersey-friendly title–he can’t find a real “problem” with Twitter beyond a generic and oft-voiced critique that social networking technologies are lowering our cultural discourse. Which begs the question: are hastily-written screeds in college newspapers raising it?
There are plenty of perfectly well-reasoned arguments against Twitter out there: for instance, Nicholas Carr’s “Twitter dot dash,” which he published way back in 2007, well before the Oprahs of the world turned Twitter into the latest mainstream techno-fad. But Hubbard seems to be responding more to the fad status of Twitter than anything of substance about the service itself. Herein lies the problem with “The Problem With Twitter”: kneejerk hatred of new technology is no more productive or enlightened than kneejerk adoption. Hubbard’s heavy-handed, reactionary rhetoric only obfuscates the real issues around emerging Web technologies.
Update: My response to Hubbard’s article is also up on the Student Life website!