The big surprise for me has been Twitter, which I avoided for the longest time. The idea of being restricted to 140 measly characters just didn't do it for me, and I really didn't want a whole new "thing" to have to tend on-line.
But I finally caved a couple of months ago and signed on, only to discover that a well-planned Twitter feed is like having an army of story-hunters around the world connecting me to the most interesting and diverse angles on what's going on out there. I've never had so many interesting news stories put in front of me.
I like Facebook, too, although it tends to be used more as a gentle and life-affirming medium for my age group, a place where we go to feel good, catch up on the Facebook family goings-on, and share photos of the grandkids or our winter vacations. I also really like it for crowd-sourcing information, like "Who are the best caterers in town?" or "Where's a good venue for a public meeting?" I've spent this past summer in a series of great housesits thanks to connections on Facebook.
Twitter, on the other hand, is a rougher space where the news is mostly edgy and the clash of opinions much more pronounced. I guess I must have been missing that in my life, because I'm not only loving the stories that my fellow Twitterites are delivering, but also my own hunts to find stories to share with them in return.
Could a Twitter-like thing be the replacement for newspapers, which appear to be in their death throes? Could be, although the best Twitter stories for my money are still largely generated by paid journalists working in real newsrooms (Globe and Mail, New York Times, CTV, CBC, established on-line news sites). I think we'll always need at least a few good reporters who get paid to do their work, because otherwise a crowd-sourced news site like Twitter risks devolving into a forum for conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated comment, scams and incoherent rants. (Or cute-kitten videos.)
But something Twitter does much better than traditional media is to act as a kind of clearing house so that stories from all over the world are coming directly to the Twitter subscriber without first having been boiled down or reinterpreted by media in the country where you live. It's like removing the middle man, and it really opens up the global conversation.
There is much more space on Twitter than there has ever been in traditional media for the voices of activists, protesters, radical thinkers, and those wanting to shake up the status quo. Facebook is where we go to have a hug and share a life anecdote, but Twitter is the place for those wanting to foment a little rebellion. I've been so happy to discover a global community of sex workers on Twitter, where they are shaping a unified political voice through this new connection.
And you know, I kind of like communicating in 140 characters and hashtags. I like a format that lets me reveal the more intense side of my personality. I admit, I would like more than 89 followers, but hey, it's a start. Come find me and we'll mix things up a little, maybe start a small revolution. I'd like that.