Attention Paid to Trite Tweets a Worrying Trend

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Author: Michael Darling

A pair of items struck my fancy in the last few weeks. First, I learned that Occidental has its own Twitter account. Second, apparently pop tart Miley Cyrus created controversy around the internet and media by deleting her Twitter account. When I heard the first piece of info, I wasn’t too surprised that Oxy was trying to do web 2.0-style marketing. What did surprise me was the kerfuffle generated on Twitter and in the blogosphere after Cyrus pulled her Twitter. Here were people lamenting about how they will no longer be able to keep tabs on a 16-year-old girl. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that in any other context that should sound downright creepy.

So, if Oxy’s decision to jump into the Twitter game for marketing purposes and controversy over a celebrity’s decision to cancel her account are any indicator, Twitter has become a big deal in modern American culture. This, however, is not a good thing, as Twitter is a celebrity-worshiping, ego-patting symptom of the dumbing-down of culture.

The basic premise of Twitter is simple: You log on and post a simple 140-character message about what you’re doing. Sometimes, should you wish, you may include a photo or link to a cool thing on the internet. If you’ve ever used Facebook, you would recognize this as a site that is nothing but status updates and no other organizational information. Now, herein lies the inherent narcissism of Twitter: By creating a Twitter account, one, possibly subconsciously, believes that they are important enough that people would want to read their tweets. Truly, the language of Twitter reflects this in the choice of the words “followers” and “following,” two words typically associated with cults and stalkers.

So what kind of important messages are being submitted through Twitter? A recent study by the market research firm Pear Analytics sought to answer this question. It looked at tweets during select hours over a two-week period and divided the posts into six categories, including news, spam, conversations and pointless babble. Based on their analysis of 2,000 tweets, they found that about 40 percent consisted of “pointless babble” about one’s daily life. Conversations made up roughly the same amount of tweets, while hard news trailed at the bottom by only making up 3.6 percent of all tweets, with spam narrowly edging it out at 3.75 percent.

Despite this humble percentage of news tweets, Twitter has actually been seen as a bastion for real-time news. However, it has also served as a petri dish for easily-spread rumors. After this summer’s disputed Iranian election, Twitter was seen as the best source for news of what was happening in the country. However, rumors were promoted just as much as fact, and some protesters started to worry that Iranian government forces might read the tweets or start posting false information designed to expose opposition protesters. The normal posts can be classified as meaningless at best and as a sign of a self-obsessed culture at worst. However, the only way one can describe the un-fact checked viral spreading of information on Twitter is that it is dangerous.

Now, Twitter has also served as a means by which certain celebrities can keep in touch with their fans. Interestingly, these celebrities are mostly of the B- and C-List variety. Let’s take, for example, Kim Kardashian, a woman with no discernible talent. She gained her stardom by being the daughter of one of O. J. Simpson’s lawyers. As of about 9 p.m. this past Sunday, she had 2,561,826 Twitter followers. If her followers formed a city, it would be the fourth largest in the U. S. So, yes, over two million people sign up to get such insights from Kardashian as “Just had yummy pancakes, bacon & eggs!”

All I can ask is “why?” This is highly disturbing as it shows that a celebrity with no visible skills is considered by so many people to be important enough to keep up-to-date with. I can understand wanting to hear the thoughts of a talented and well-spoken performer like Bruce Springsteen, but what makes people want to hang on the every word of Kardashian and her ilk?

So, back to Ms. Cyrus. I congratulate her on deciding to get off Twitter. Twitter has created a culture of over-sharing. It’s as if everyone’s become a tweet-reading voyeur or a tweet-writing exhibitionist. In our reality show culture, we’ve voluntarily gotten rid of privacy and suddenly everyone is living in public like a celebrity. The lineup of tweets you’re following from friends, celebrities, businesses and whatever else creates a perverse equality in which everything is equally worth reading, and yet very little actually is.

Michael Darling is a senior History major. He can be reached at mdarling@oxy.edu.

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