Design Con 2015

Is Twitter evil?

December 04, 2013

JackGanssle-December 04, 2013

Famed writer Jonathan Franzen is not a fan of on-line distractions. He reportedly gummed up his computer's RJ-45 with glue so there would be no Internet distracting him from his work. According to this article Franzen said, "Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It's hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It's like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it's like writing a novel without the letter 'P'… It's the ultimate irresponsible medium."

He has called the Internet "the bloodsucking monster squid."

I don't use Twitter. Nor do I Facebook, assuming that is now a verb. Or Tumblr, or Flickr (what do these people have against the letter ‘e'?) or make use of any of those innumerable sharing sites. I do have a LinkedIn account, mostly to follow some groups. I tried Facebook for a year or two, but thought the signal to noise ratio was vanishingly small. My wife uses it to stay connected to family and friends, and she finds the posts useful. Different strokes for different folks.

A friend told me he likes to tweet while writing. For him the exchanges are apparently like an energy drink. I prefer to avoid any interruption while doing something requiring a lot of thought; getting into a zone with the world tuned out works best for me. Others feel differently.

Then there's the time required. Interneting can be a tremendous time sink, and, like any technology, is something one must control. Ice cream is the same: how easy it would be to eat a quart, how awful you'd feel afterwards. Working from home, there's no one looking over my shoulder, and I could easily lose the day in reading politics, news, or about engineering. But then it's impossible to get anything done, so I ration non-business time on the ‘net carefully.

For me, Twitter and all of the rest would consume time I'd rather spend sailing, woodworking, working or hanging with my friends and family.

While I agree with Franzen that a 140 character tweet does not allow for crafting a careful argument, this is a straw man argument. Twitter was never meant to be some budding Kafka's next medium. By this logic post cards are terrible. Yet a post card is a wonderful way to show someone you're thinking of him or her. It would be a lousy vehicle for the next Metamorphosis.

The only work of Franzen's I have read is Freedom. It is an interesting story. But the book is reeking with foul language; so much so that it seems that the expletives are just shoddy replacements for careful writing. Ironically the work feels like some drunk 20-year-old party animal's tweets. By the end I was left with the impression that Franzen has a lot of talent, which does show through from time to time, but he is lazy. Or he's looking for a gig as a shock jock. What do you think? Do you tweet, Tumblr, Facebook, etc.? Are they time wasters or a valuable asset for you?



Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges, and works as an expert witness on embedded issues. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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