As a social networking tool is is abysmal, inferior both to Facebook and that-service-that-shall-not-be-named-but-rhymes-with-Cry-Place. Those other services convey more information about the member, allow the member greater creative freedom, and support a wider variety of media.
As an information tool, it is redundant. Not only does it present little more information than mere headlines, but it provides so little latitude that even titles need to be abbreviated in some cases. So, any user who wishes to relay information must link to another site. This makes Twitter nothing more than a shell. A link depository. And, again, it provides no unique service. One can just as easily use Facebook or the-service-that-shall-not-be-named-but-rhymes-with-Try-Mace to post links or else the reader can simply subscribe to the millions upon millions of RSS feeds out there to receive headline links directly from the source.
Essentially, Twitter is wholly deficient in the one purpose it serves: To convey information, be it personal, news, or professional in nature. So the natural question is why, then, would anyone want to use it? Seeing as how it was, essentially, obsolete before it even began, how has it become so popular? I think the success of Twitter relies on three primary factors, each of which is indicative of the disturbing shortcomings of humanity.
Twitter is cute. Simply put. Look, a birdy! Who doesn't love birdies? Commies, that's who. It has a cute name, with a cute mascot, with an inoffensive - come hither design that the media LOVES. Also, the name lends itself to all sorts of oh-so-hilarious puns that talking heads so enjoy ribbing about. "He tweeted!" "Look at all these twats!" "Hollywood is all a-twitter!" Adorable. Like anything else, style often trumps substance. The same reason Apple stays in business is the same reason Twitter has become the de facto social media interface. It's cute and harmless.
Plus it promotes how simple it is to use. When I made my first blog, I did it myself, on my own webpage, hosted on my university account. This required two things: First, I had to have a working knowledge of HTML (and, later, CSS.) This meant I had to LEARN html and LEARN how to use the interface to edit and upload my content. This was an exercise that took a few hours and, later, took some continued learning to advance my design and improve the blog. Then, I migrated to this place and Xanga. Mostly out of laziness, for neither required I actually handle the messy sausage factory of html. I could more quickly and efficiently pump out my diatribes. However, I still had to learn to use its specific interface... there was some learning curve, however shallow. The same issues held true with using Facebook Notes and the-service-that-shall-not-be-named-but-rhymes-with-Sly-Grace. The second requirement of doing my own blog was that I actually have something to say (editorial aside, I originally typed that sentence as "something WORTHWHILE to say" but decided none of you are gullible enough to buy that.) I had to generate actual content before I clicked a "publish" button.
Twitter makes neither of these demands. It requires no knowledge to use beyond "type keys, click mouse" and its very nature is so undemanding. It doesn't WANT you to say anything worthwhile. Twitter doesn't have time for your shit. Shhhhh, baby, don't talk, Twitter's here to take care of you. Just say a few sexy words while Twitter looks pretty. Mmmhmm, that's right. When you only have a140 characters, pretty much anything you say is either going to be inane or abbreviated.
In short, Twitter is sexy and easy. The sorority girl of the internet.
2) Short Attention Sp-- Look! A birdy!
This has been my long standing criticism of Twitter and ties directly into my prior point. Twitter doesn't ask that you say anything so the reader doesn't have to waste time reading anything. My first point explains largely why people are drawn to use Twitter as content generators. But Twitter also has a distinct advantage to content consumers.
Look, up in the sky, it's an aside!
We have short attention spans. I think that is a fact that has almost become a truism. I may have misused truism there, but you know what, you aren't going to check. You know why? Because you don't have the fucking patience to go look it up! I are winner. You aren't alone, though, we all have short attention spans. Hell, I'm willing to bet no more than half the people who started reading this entry have even made it this far. And, where as a short attention span was mocked and ridiculed in the 90s as we began to treat Ritalin like candy, it has recently become embraced by society through the Myth of Multitasking.
The human brain does not multitask. It is divided into different sections that carry out different tasks, sure. That's why you are capable of breathing, driving a car and carrying on a cellphone conversation all at once. You have automatic systems that make sure you don't start choking for oxygen, muscle memory that allows you to operate the wheel and gas, and cognitive functions that let you carry on your oh-so-important-conversation about why Rebecca is such a skank. However, you are only PAYING ATTENTION to one of those things: That bitch, Rebecca and her ugly shoes. I mean, really, what was she thinking? Your higher cognitive functions are dedicated and can only manage one task at a time. "But wait!" You say, holding your finger up in the air for dramatic effect. "I can do multiple things at once. For example, the other day, I prepared a TRS report, while lisening to NPR, while arranging my calender for the next week."
You did all those things. But not at the same time. You were switching back and forth between each task. Perhaps rapidly, but still, one task at a time, in chunks of a few seconds or a minute or two. And each time you switch tasks, your brain has to readjust. So, actually, by doing all those things "at once" instead of taking them on one at a time, you almost certainly were either less efficient OR, more likely, just did a shittier job on all of them. Does it seem like everyone half asses everything nowadays? This is why. In our "multitasking world" our brain has two options. It can either take the time to wind up and wind down as it bounces from task to task, or it can just sort of jump start and we can do the task with our brain still not totally up to cognitive speed. And, since you want to hurry up and get done so you can go take your two hour lunch, guess what happens?
But, humans, as any Psychology 101 student will tell you (after saying some nonsense about Freud or Skinner or Jung) are inherently egotistical. We put the best light on ourselves. So, we call our half-assed rapid task switching "Multitasking."
Back to my original point. The average Twitter user is hip. She or he is dynamic, energetic and totally a "Multitasker." She doesn't have time for your "research" or "logic", grandpa. She only has time to read a bunch of short headlines about a dozen different things so she can get back to listening to the totally kickass new Weezer record. Or, worse yet, he is an important denizen of corporate America who must blaze through information so he can get back to synergizing and base touching and... um... proactivating. Therein lies the appeal. Twitter not only serves the laziness of not having to do actual reading or research, but actually feeds the egotistical belief that you have the work capabilities of Dr. Manhattan-but-with-pants.
In reading Twitter posts the other day, I discovered something. I don't have the slightest goddamn clue what many of these people are saying. And that may be the most important part of Twitter.
People want to be part of a culture, a niche, a clique, a gang, a mob. We want to feel like we belong to some special little group that is separate from the other peons out there. Now, when these groups exist in the real world, there are a variety of ways we can distinguish ourselves. Clothes. Music. Activities. Language/slang. But, on the interwebs, language becomes the primary and, in many cases, only way one can distinguish oneself.
Look, internet geeks have been doing it for years. 1ee7 speak allowed me to pwn n00bs. If you don't know what that means, it's okay, in fact, you should be proud of yourself. Still, while nerds have crafted their own bizarre languages, the masses on the internet were left out of the loop. Then came Twitter. So very many Twitter posts take the form of a bizarre code. There are common acronyms, like RT, @ symbols, # symbols, abbreviated words. All of which is designed to make one post flow into another and another. It makes you part of a coded chain. You aren't just some individual, you are @kutekitty95 and you are talking about how great #fishtacos are just like 500 other people who are chaining their comments about #fishtacos. And some might even RT you!
Hell even the links are indiscernable. Thanks to the modern industry of catering to the arbitrary 140 character limit, there are dozens of websites that exist only to redirect links to a shorter link address. It used to be, I could look at a link and see something like "www.creepy.net/this-be-child-porn.html" and decide whether it was worth my time investigating further. Now, I just see some ridiculous random string of characters: http://j.pm.ly/5ab9lz. Not only is Twitter just a shell, relinking real information, but it isn't even a particularly good one.
Still, its participants feel more closely bound by their little code, their subculture. But they don't really belong to anything worthwhile because, again, no one is actually saying anything. It's gibberish that's been coded to make it look more important.
Essentially, Twitter rewards three of the most banal aspects of humanity. It embraces laziness, shallowness, and elitism. It tells its participants "look, you don't have to work hard or even pay much attention to be more interesting and special than people who don't participate." It provides no true benefit, it simple feeds on basic psychological mechanisms to suck people into it without providing any tangible benefit that wouldn't be enjoyed to a greater degree elsewhere.
This is why I despise Twitter.
Having said all that, I am also a whore. Which is why I will be Tweeting a link to this post.
And you should totally RT me. RT me all.... night... long. Mmmmm, yeah.