Hensher states quite clearly that he tried Twitter but didn’t fully understand it so there fore found it unsettling. He turned it off not because he didn’t like the tool, but because he never could figure out how to use it. Or, more clearly, define it.
I have a tool box full of tools in my garage. Some of them I use regularly, like my wrenches, screwdrivers and channel locks. Others I hardly touch for years at a time, like my rubber mallet. It’s a big heavy clumsy thing that usually just gets in the way of me trying to fish out the tools I actually use. I often consider just throwing the thing away, until a moment arises when I really need.
Then my tone changes drastically.
This past weekend my daughter was riding her bike and I noticed her feet were nearly dragging the ground. She’s only six, so it’s a small bike, but she loves to ride it. So, I grabbed my channel locks to raise the seat and immediately noticed the bar was rusted solid. I soaked it in lubricant and waited patiently, then twisted and turned the seat to get it to come up a few inches, but had no luck.
Then I remembered the rubber mallet. It was the perfect tool for the job. A few solid, well-placed whacks! and the seat came free. My daughter was riding in comfort in minutes. If I had tried using my regular hammer I would have surely bent the seat or torn the cushion. The rubber mallet was just what I needed, especially since I knew how to use it.
If I had tried driving nails with my rubber mallet I would have been sorely disappointed.
So, my answer to Hensher is that perhaps the problem isn’t with Twitter, but in your own inability to use it correctly. For the rest of us, who understand exactly what it can do for us, it’s the best thing since…well, since rubber mallets.
This week, I left Twitter. It was not a big deal – I’d been on it for three months, mostly to see how it went, and only had a few hundred followers. And then I didn’t really like it. I quite enjoyed seeing big news stories unfold in hundreds of comments; I quite enjoyed engaging flippantly with people I actually know. But in other ways, it didn’t suit me. I didn’t like the way people you didn’t know and who evidently didn’t wish you well were given personal access to you and your friends. And I couldn’t work out what one was doing, really. Was it a conversation? Or was it a sort of newspaper? Was one publishing one’s thoughts, or just talking loudly? When it was bad, as it quite often was, it felt very much like shouting like a mad person in a crowded street. Well, anyway, I prefer to save my conversation for friends, so I turned the thing off.
This fundamental dilemma about social media was surely at the bottom of the wavering discussion about whether the government should have the right to turn off the social media during periods of disorder. During the riots, Twitter and Facebook were widely used to comment on the extent of violence. Most of it was “OMG look at the riots on telly”. But some of it was very positive, and more accurate and swifter than the mainstream media could manage. I was in Devon without a television or radio, and found Twitter very helpful. For instance, when much of the media were reporting that “Clapham High Street” was in flames, Twitter, with more knowledge on the ground, correctly said it was the shopping centre at Clapham Junction that was affected…..
….The scenario before us – a frightening or inspiring one, probably depending on your age – is that these social media are not a conversation. Nor are they a publication. Still more alarmingly, they may not even be something in between the two states. They may very well be something entirely new. It is for all of us to work out what that may be – psychically, personally, communally. As the hapless teens of Northwich and our confused lawmakers are discovering, we are also going to have to discover what that “something new” means in terms of law. In the meantime, we can always remember that you don’t have to be on Twitter, you know.
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