Although it is difficult to admit it, I am a Twitter fiend. Although I don’t post a-million-and-one updates on my life a day, I am likely to post something daily, often more than once. All of this is relatively new to me. Until I started a Writing Ecologies unit at university and was instructed to write an ‘essay’ on Twitter (a novel concept I rebelled against for, oh, two hours, and whinged about for two weeks) I had been one of the many who considered Twitter silly. I couldn’t seem to reconcile the great new way of communicating users of the website talked about with something I had always thought of as navel gazing.
Not surprisingly, I have since had to remove my foot from my mouth and admit that I now post to Twitter far more than I do to Facebook or any other form of social media available to me. Within a few minutes of navigating to the Twitter website I had downloaded the app to both my iPad and iPhone (for convenience, in case there were more tasks, I told myself). Ridiculously appropriate, my first Tweet was a whine about having to use Twitter. Oh the irony. Then I re-Tweeted a celebrity’s Easter message (it was funny! It didn't count!) and finally posted my Twitter essay.
I might have been able to defend myself if my use of Twitter had stopped there. But no. Less than a week later when I saw scaffolding going up in one of my favourite studying spots at uni my first thought was to photograph the scene and take to Twitter to air my wrath. It was official: I had become a Twitter user.
Since then, I have come to recognize the possibilities available through this new truncated form of social media communication. Whereas Facebook has a similar base structure of a newsfeed of posts by people and groups the user has chosen to become involved with, Twitter has the added bonus of making all these updates brief and largely to the point. While scrolling down a Facebook newsfeed can be laboriously time consuming due to the often lengthy posts and widely spaced layout, Twitter’s restriction of length to 140 characters a Tweet means that a user can take in numerous updates in a matter of minutes. To view pictures, links and other more lengthy details the user needs to ‘open’ that particular Tweet, which saves space on the feed. If you don’t want to read it, you can simply continue scrolling down. With such short messages it takes only a moment to scan a Tweet and decide you aren’t interested.
The ability to link Tweets through a hashtag (#) or to attract the attention of a fellow user by including their name preceded by this symbol (@) also allows people to connect and share more easily. There is also the added bonus of feeling as if you are involved in a wider group as hashtagged Tweets may be picked up by people over the other side of the world who have similar interests.
All in all, Twitter is not as terrible as I previously led myself to believe. Tweets from news providers all over the world lets me know the headlines of breaking stories and updates on current ones. Not only this, but Twitter has made me and many others, it seems, question how much we really need to say to get our points across. Does the news really only need to be brief snippets of the key points? Can an entire fictional tale be provided with only 140 characters? The number of authors who have given it a go would seem to suggest that some can. And I think we’ve all at times wished that a friend’s seemingly never-ending Facebook status about their day had just been a few events shorter.