Thursday, March 5, 2009

why twitter makes nothing better

I am still working for the news station, and thankfully so, given the declining state of the economy. Yesterday, in our afternoon news meeting, one of the meteorologists was bent out-of-shape when he discovered the news director wanted him to begin regularly twittering his weather updates.

I couldn't understand why. Perhaps he's just sick of jumping through all of the hoops being placed before him. In the 6 months I've been in the news biz, I've seen the duties of the station's meteorologists increase significantly as the station jumps head-first into every new media trend. The station has a (free) subscription text message service for weather and school closing updates. Each meteorologist has their own blog. The station has a facebook presence to which they have to contribute content. And now they've got to twitter, as well.

But I don't understand his adversion to having to twitter weather tweets. Since weather is so variable in nature, the science of meteorology fails with regularity to predict what is going to happen outside. When the prediction falls well short of the mark, I've seen the emails we get from viewers and loggers-on to our site. "Anyone could do your job." "A blind-folded monkey throwing darts at a weather map could give me a more accurate forecast." "You said there was going to be a light dusting of snow; I'm looking at half-a-foot on the ground right now, and it's still snowing!"

Meteorologists often have their science questioned and are dismissed as unfounded prognosticators whenever their forecasts go awry. So why wouldn't a meteorologist want an immediate way to get the latest change in the storm tracker out to people, in 140 characters or less? It's a quick eraser for the forecasting pencil. "The snowstorm isn't moving through the area as initially projected; expect 4 to 6 inches, up to 8 in higher elevations." (99 characters)

If I were a meteorologist, I'd want to twitter for two reasons. 1) The technology allows for changes in the weather to be addressed more quickly than my next scheduled email update or TV broadcast. 2) It provides yet another reminder to people how important the weather (and, in turn, my existence as a meteorologist) is. Win, win.

Making changes to weather forecasts is one of many useful applications for twitter. We've seen, in this past prez election, how useful twitter is in quickly disseminating information re: candidates for office. Performing and non-performing artists use twitter to remind fans and friends of upcoming gigs, showings, readings, exhibits, etc. Any marketing event or product or press release gains that much more of a audience if twittered with a tweet.

But, on the whole, twitter makes nothing better, insofar as society and our culture is concerned, and not just because talking about twittering tweets makes you sound like Elmer Fudd.

The advent of texting has the current generation (Generation "teXt"?) treating English language and grammar with the same, wanton disregard that mortgage lenders have been dispensing loans for the last decade or so. The advent of facebook (with a nod to MySpace, as well) has succeeded in bringing out the inner-sociable narcissist in all of us. And Twitter, in effect, has combined the two, in a soft-serve swirl cone that everyone seems to be licking and loving nowadays.

(By the way, if you'd like an insight into why precisely we're in the shit we're in, economy-wise, watch the 60 Minutes report on World Savings here.)

While I agree with old man Stewart's reasons for shaking his fist at Twitter, my own gripe with the fad stands upon poetical grounds. Twitter, as I see it, is yet another nail in poetry's coffin. Not only because it is another techno-distraction to swerve our attention (and more importantly, our children's attention) from the page and thoughtful consideration of language, but twitter celebrates those character traits that are a bane to poetry, culture and society, in general.

... I was planning to continue here, by identifying those traits, arguing by way of example, etc., but it's almost dinner time, and my bottle of wine is calling from the kitchen... perhaps I'll get back to this later.

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