Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

This is not the column you think it is. It is, in fact, a slight variation.

I have joined the ranks of those who tweet…and yet I am not new to the Twitter scene. I now understand the craft of a poignant and thorough message, constructed in no more than 140 characters…and yet I am not dragging my feet to the 21st Century, finally coming around to the idea of social media and the impact it can have on society. Actually, I embraced Twitter long ago, just never in participatory fashion. Until now.

I couldn’t tell you the exact date I joined Twitter, but it was sometime during the first quarter of my freshman year in college, which would be autumn of 2008. A journalism professor of mine explained to us in class that Twitter would be the “next big thing”, and described it mainly as a platform for personal status updates. As shocking as it is to consider only two and a half years removed, Twitter was fairly non-existent at that time. When I first logged on to check out the site, the number of members was less than a million; celebrities and athletes had yet to make it mainstream. Personally, I was a little confused as to what the point of the site would be. How was it any different than Facebook?

Interestingly enough, my approach to Facebook was basically the opposite as it was to Twitter. I ultimately got a Twitter account before joining Facebook, because I didn’t have much interest in Facebook’s function. I resisted joining until my sophomore year of college, mainly because (as crass and douchy as it sounds) I didn’t really care what my fringe friends and acquaintances were doing. I figured I didn’t need a website in order to keep in touch with the people I actually cared enough to stay current with. I’ve softened slightly on this approach, but still feel generally the same way, which is why I only check my Facebook account fleetingly about once or twice a week…at the most. And while I initially thought Twitter would function in largely the same way, it turned out that there was an obvious distinction between the two mediums: what Facebook is to (largely) one’s personal and social life, Twitter is to (largely) one’s professional and informational life.

I became intrigued by Twitter once I realized the informational aspect that it presented. It can basically be your own personal news site. For instance, I follow my favorite news outlets (newspapers, magazines, reporters, tv stations), favorite sports and entertainment outlets, favorite journalists, favorite athletes and celebrities, and then a few friends and contrived accounts for comedic relief. By simply logging into my twitter account, I can immediately get the sporting, entertainment, and national news that interests me (because I choose who I follow), as well as info about my college, my favorite personalities, and a general pulse on the nation and globe. I found out about the tsunami in Japan through Twitter. I found out about the Bengals hiring a new offensive coordinator through Twitter. I found out that swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker loves Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns ice cream through Twitter. It’s all gold.

Initially, I just assumed that all Twitter had to offer was a basic statement in 140 characters. It turns out that tweets can also contain links to articles, pictures, videos, anything. Journalists can link to their work or that of their peers. Bands can link to music. Athletes can link to highlights. Seth Myers can link to Saturday Night Live clips. The possibilities that Twitter presented were far greater than what I imaged would be feasible. And whereas Facebook serves basically as a way for your buddies and classmates to keep you current on pics of them getting hammered and funny Youtube videos, Twitter “feeds” you the news and information that you selected and find interesting, from notable or established people in diverse and specific fields…while also retaining the capacity to post pics of people getting hammered or funny Youtube videos, if they (or you) so choose.

It is because of all these things that I immediately gravitated towards Twitter. Once I realized the possibilities, I was hooked. I follow around 200 “handles” on my account, all of which offer info of varying interest to me – from international natural disasters, to the favorite ice cream flavor of a cute girl I’ll probably never meet, and would be far too terrified to talk to even if I did. I’m positive that I spent more time on the site than people that actually did tweet, but just as an observer. I was interested and supportive and amazed at the potential of the site, but never actually got involved for the longest time.

The reason for my tweeting restraint was supplementary to the reason I avoided getting on Facebook: I figured that no one actually cared what I had to say…er…tweet. I followed Twitter for interesting and breaking news, both of which are things that I didn’t really bring to the table. Plus, people would have to “follow” me in order to read the things I tweeted, which I figured was unlikely. I mean, I would have no interest in following me, so why would others?

Nevertheless, as a prospective journalist at one of the more prominent J-schools in the country, establishing a presence and following on Twitter is constantly encouraged. Even if I have nothing important to say, the fact that I am familiarizing myself with the platform and the process is what is actually important. Hopefully, once I graduate and get a job, I will actually have something important to tweet, and I’ll be ready to go. It’s my opinion that journalists (and journalism in general) have the most to gain from Twitter’s capabilities. I’m not alone in this opinion, which is why I have been pushed to be a Twitter contributor, as opposed to just a follower. And so, on April 20, 2011, I broke my self-imposed Twitter silence:

@Williams_Justin: “Been on Twitter a while but finally losing tweet virginity. Hope Twitter doesnt make excuse to leave early tmrw morning & never call again

It was a historic occasion. Since then, I’ve gone on to tweet other influential and momentous things, such as lighthearted, comedic quips about Jesus and his resurrection on Easter Sunday, or the proposition that Vanilla Ice in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Secret of the Ooze is the greatest movie cameo of all time. Needless to say, I’m off to a fast start. I’ve even had several fellow Bobcats gracious enough to follow me, the lucky consumers of my vital proclamations.

I still have nothing important to tweet about. God willing, the future will present a situation where that is no longer the case. And when it does, I’ll be ready. But until then, I’ll settle for falling in line – a follower, just looking for a following.

Thanks for reading

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