One of the very interesting features of Twitter is that it seems to arouse dismissive, snobbish judgements, like this:
To get an idea of what Twitter was being used for, Pear Analytics dipped into the Tweet stream every 30 minutes between 11:00 and 17:00 on weekdays for a fortnight.
In total it grabbed 2,000 messages and then put each message it grabbed into one of six categories; news, spam, self-promotion, pointless babble, conversational and those with pass-along value.
Conversational tweets were those that bounced back and forth between two users, and those dubbed “pointless babble” were of the “I’m eating a sandwich” type.
For one thing, Twitter reflects real life.
I’d like to see the researchers stand on a street corner, or sit in a cafe or on a bus and carry out similar research, because that’s what Twitter is like. It’s like a bunch of people who regularly use the same bus, some of whom may live together or work together or go out and party together.
What do these groups of people talk about on a bus? I’ve no idea — I don’t often catch the bus and I try to tune out conversations others have.
I bet a huge number of conversations are of the “I’m eating a sandwich” type, while some will be recommendations for a plumber, or discussions of the latest news and current affairs.
And we’ve all been in cafes where a person at the next table is engaging in loud self-promotion.
In real life groups of people engage in all kinds of talk, some trivial, some meaningful, and some whose purpose is just to make a connection. That one’s called ‘phatic communion‘.
By dipping into the Twitter stream the researchers removed all context, and all meaning from each tweet before they passed judgement on its worth. Who’s to say what lay behind “I’m eating a sandwich”?
Who wrote that, and why? What had they been doing beforehand? What were their life circumstances?
I’m not saying that all or even most tweets have great ‘meaning’ — I don’t think Twitter would be fulfilling such a useful purpose if they did. But just ponder for a moment what could precede such an “I’m eating a sandwich” tweet:
- I’ve been fighting anorexia and bulimia, but now …
- I was lost at sea and almost died, but now …
- My jaw was wired shut after a mugging, but now …
- I had stomach surgery to reduce my weight, but now …
- I thought I’d be paralysed for life, but now …
You get the idea. Context is everything.
It’s our place — we don’t need snobbery
Twitter is not a platform for great rhetoric. It’s not the place for life-altering pronouncements. It’s not some kind of holy book, being written 140 characters at a time.
Twitter’s a place where groups of friends and acquaintances chat. We share our thoughts, our moments, our successes, trials and mundanities.
Sometimes we feel a need to say “I’m eating a sandwich”. Sometimes we don’t.
Dear Researchers: take your dismissive snobbery elsewhere and add your judgements to your own stockpiles of pointless babble!