Things I Know 141 of 365: The message about the medium matters

Whoever said that things have to be useful?

– Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder and CEO

NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller wasted space in his own paper last week.

In his column for the Times Magazine, Keller wrote a piece titled, “The Twitter Trap.”

I don’t take issue with Keller’s dislike of Twitter. My mom doesn’t like Twitter either, but she and I get along fine.

Keller wasted space in allotting column inches to an argument that’s been had since the service’s launch in March 2006.

Technology’s depleting our ability to remember, you say?

Social media is curtailing “real rapport and real conversation,” you contend?

Excellent, you’re ready for 2007.

I’ve seen several speakers recently bash twitter and then be rewarded with full applause.

“This guy’s onto something,” they cheer, “We’re all stupider because of Twitter!”

Then someone makes a joke wittily tying in the word twits.

It’s not that Twitter’s making us less thoughtful that’s worrisome to me, it’s that it’s allowing us to make the less thoughtful arguments.

Knocking Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook is easy.

Writing for the most important paper in the country should mean you don’t get to make the easy argument. It should mean you swing for the fences every time.

Keller’s argument would have been fine as his Facebook status or as a post on his blog.

From the column in the magazine, though, I was hoping for a meditation on the fact that many people learned of Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter before the Times website could publish the story. Working through a reasoned argument why deep, long-form journalism remains relevant and important in an age when people like Andy Carvin are harnessing Twitter to cull immediate reports from the ground during the middle eastern revolutions would have engaged me as a reader.

To use his pulpit to make a case that’s nearly half a decade old, strikes me as easy. More troubling still, making the easy argument, Keller’s not trying to do anything with his writing. He should be.

Writing that attempts to inspire, change and challenge – now that’s fit to print.

2 thoughts on “Things I Know 141 of 365: The message about the medium matters

  1. I love that you take the time to write exactly the things I want to say, but am too lazy to.  Attacking various social media tools is easy, but playing with them and pushing the boundaries of what they can do, is much more fun. Twitter is lame Facebook is shallow than re0envision them and make them something they are not. Give them depth.

  2. It's a pretty appalling piece when you start to break it down, too. For example, he doesn't seem to understand the difference between a heads-up _display_ and hypothetical _input_ devices.The strangest comments are the ones that he doesn't seem to realize are self-sabotaging: He implies that Gutenberg's press started the decline of memory, not seeming to recall that he works for (the remnants of) a print publication. He complains that social media content is too ephemeral, as though years of newspapers haven't melted away in the rain.In the end, I think he tips his hand: he wants people to view and share his article, and he knows the reaction will be hostile (leading to more sharing). I think it's important for a newspaper's editorials to share unpopular viewpoints, but its useless to do so without at least making an effort to present them convincingly. To express an unpopular view with the pure intent to get attention is marketing at its ugliest and most desperate.

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