Birds Tweet, but I don’t understand what they’re saying

The Twitter phenomena is clearly one that is not about to disappear overnight, but despite the fact that it has become an active part of social media I just do not get it. It’s true, sometimes all you need or want is a short announcement or a pithy statement, but most of the time, being severely limited by the number of characters doesn’t seem to shut people up, instead, it causes them to come up with all kinds of ridiculous shorthand. And to be honest, just talk to me in plain English. I’ll be happy to give you a couple of extra seconds or minutes so that you can use real words in grammatically correct sentences. (Reading that back to myself makes me feel like an old lady, but if wanting things to be clear means that I’m “old”, I’ll deal.)

A number of people have mentioned that many libraries seem to use Twitter more or less for announcements, which is clearly helpful, but not maximizing its potential. However, in an environment that is supposed to celebrate language and literacy, how should Twitter be used in a way that respects that? I was discussing it with a friend, who pointed out that I use instant messaging and text messaging, but I pointed out that neither of those mediums have quite the same requirements for abbreviation, etc., and that they are both more private. However, despite my quick rebuttal, his point caused me to continue to think about Twitter and why it holds so little interest for me.

1. I do not have a smart phone and when I have worked at desk and computer based jobs, I have never had the time to spend on following people or organizations on Twitter while at my computer. Therefore, I think that I’m potentially slipping through cracks left by my lack of smart phone – this really does seem to be a medium designed for people who have 24/7 access and presumably interest.  (And I specifically purchase phones by entering the store and asking for a “dumb phone”.) Given that a library is designed to meet the needs of a broader population, their social media presence should reflect the fact that not all users or potential users have easy and constant internet access. As such, it would seem to make sense that they maximize the effectiveness of their online presence and that they make it easily digestible without unlimited time and access. It is true that Twitter tweets are short, but if you have to follow 15 of them to get the same information that can be gleaned from a short paragraph on a well written website, the brevity works against them. Therefore, how can Twitter be used to effectively supplement, other forms of online presence without creating a situation in which non-Twitter users are missing things to which they should also have access.

2. While I have absolute respect for brevity, I have a greater respect for clarity and I find that I’m often completely flummoxed by the abbreviations that have been created within the world of social media. I generally consider myself to be a relatively smart and intuitive person, but I will find myself staring at letter combinations with absolutely no clue as to what I’m supposed to be getting from them. While it has been many years since I learned to read and I no longer experience the anxiety of being unable to decipher something, there is a similar level of blank incomprehension accompanied by the feeling that I should be able to figure it out. Maybe one of the services that libraries can provide is a social media dictionary that will help users to both access the library’s social media resources and to more effectively interact with other social media sources.

3. I will often use a text message to send a brief note that is either saying “hi”, passing on a piece of information, or asking a question. I rarely need to worry about going over my character limit and while I generally appreciate an answer that says at the very least, “I got your message”, I do not generally use text messages as a way to have ongoing conversations. (It happens on occasion, but they tend to be completely ridiculous – hysterically funny, totally random, and often rather disjointed.) I also use instant messaging, but in that medium, I can carry out extended conversations if I so choose and they remain relatively private. I can send short statements or longer prose, either of which gets shared efficiently and in the context of Google chat, is saved unless I specify otherwise. I don’t’ know where to go with this one in terms of how libraries can address this. There are a number of libraries that are effectively using instant messaging via their websites and I know that there are even some libraries that are using text messaging, however, I think that they are both mediums that have some overlap with Twitter, but are not primarily designed for the same purposes.

While I still do not get Twitter, I am working on trying to understand what all of the tweeting is about and to understand some of the appeal. Thus far, I’m still feeling pretty uninterested, but I am willing to keep an open mind about it. However, as we continue to progress through this course, I get the distinct feeling that there are other, more efficient and lucrative social media options. Maybe I’ll start to hear bird songs amongst the “twittering” at some point, but for right now, it generally seems more like noise than music.


2 thoughts on “Birds Tweet, but I don’t understand what they’re saying

  1. Christy Confetti Higgins

    Thanks for your sharing your insights. Twitter is not for everyone but I hope after this course, you can see the value of a tool like Twitter for sharing information and connecting with clients/users/etc. It can be quite powerful – even if you are on the information consumption side.

  2. Carleen

    I can understand your frustrations. It took me a while to get into Twitter also and I found the character limit annoying too. But after the Mumbai attacks, the tsunami in Japan (2011?) and more recently the Arab Spring I realized more fully how powerful social media sites like Twitter can be in terms of civil discourse and engagement (granted, there are also examples of how Twitter can cause more chaos in those kinds of circumstances but we can save that for a different discussion). Yes, the shorthand can be irksome to those of us who have a love for the English language, etc. But the reality is that this form of communication has infiltrated our culture, and it’s not going away. As a librarian, I figure I don’t have to like it, I just have to learn to use it. If I don’t, I will miss a chance to connect with my community/students/users. If I don’t connect, I can’t help and I can’t teach. For me, it’s that simple.


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