Twitter: Information Portal or Time Suck?

I’ve been thinking about Twitter.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of years, Twitter is a social media tool that, according to the company’s website, “connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” Because anybody and everybody can be on Twitter, and follow the famous, not so famous, and even the fakes, it has become a social media phenom.  It is at once the greatest information portal of all times and the biggest time suck in history.

The recent presidential election set all sorts of Twitter records, including 31 million election-related posts on election day alone.

After the election was called in favor of Barack Obama, Obama’s Tweet,

@BarackObama Four more years.

generated more than 717,000 retweets, the most ever. The state by state results were tweeted, retweeted, and commented upon throughout the evening. I can imagine that Romney’s social media team must have been watching the tweets trending for Obama with disbelief and growing sadness as the evening progressed.

We are increasingly getting our news via Twitter. Quite often, when I am reading the paper or watching the evening news (Yes, I still subscribe to a daily newspaper.) I already know some of the details of the news being reported because I have read it on Twitter hours earlier. Through Twitter, I can keep up on the news happening where my two adult children live, where I used to live, and where I live now. I stay informed about the nonprofit world that is so important to my work, about technology, leadership, current events, and my favorite sports teams (GO BIG BLUE!). Where Facebook is a way to share gossipy things, Twitter is less about gossip, and more about news, though the gossip is certainly available for those interested in such things. It’s just that on Facebook, you get  it whether you want it or not. On Twitter you can filter a lot of that out.

Twitter makes us smarter and dumber all at the same time.

There is a LOT of junk on Twitter. I don’t care what Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, or especially some goofy NLF player is doing or thinking. I don’t want to know about people’s mundane everyday activities, and will quickly unfollow a person if the chatter becomes too trite, too frequent, or of little value.  Full disclosure, I am often compelled to click on pictures from perfect strangers, a voyeuristic trait that I hate about myself. Of course, MY Tweets and photos are all insightful, with never a dull or mundane one in the lot. (Oh, but I wish that last statement were true.)

What is good about Twitter – and dangerous,too – is the familiarity of it all. The common, regular person can easily send a express an opinion, and even have influence on a news outlet, politician, or advocacy group.  We become familiar with the so-called celebrities, and they us And of course, being human, many have posted unwise tweets and paid the price. Twitter should have a button labeled, YOU IDIOT, that warns us before we send an unwise or ill-advised tweet.  I fear, though, that most of us would just ignore the warning and send it anyway.

Have you made the Twitter leap yet?