Thursday, July 23, 2009

What is Twitter?

It seems every time I go to a social gathering these days someone makes a point of asking me to explain Twitter. Granted, I am of that certain age when nearly all of my family and colleagues are, well, more mature. Most seem amazed that I use Twitter and even more amazed when I tell them I can explain it.

So this is what I tell them...

Remember when you were in junior high school or freshman/sophomore year in high school? Remember the school cafeteria at lunchtime? This is Twitter.

Then I explain: So you are sitting at a long table with you immediate friends. Maybe your best friend is sitting opposite you, and around you are your general circle of friends. And at the end of the table are other classmates, but kids you don't socialize with all that much, except maybe in class, or the locker room or here in the caf.

Now at the tables around you are other classmates, kids in your same grade, but with whom you rarely socialize. And as you span out in increasingly larger circles from your table you eventually cover all of the kids in your school, well maybe a big chunk of them, sitting in the cafeteria.

Now, if your school was like my school, there are teachers in the room and there will be the occasional announcement over the very scratchy PA system. Most of these announcements are of no interest to you, but occasionally everyone shuts up and listens.

Got the picture? The scene is rather animated and there is a LOT of talking going on. So much so that it is almost impossible to hear your best friend right in front of you; so everyone talks a little louder. To an outside observer, it is utter din, nonsense. But to those engaged in conversation, it is intense, sometimes personal, and very addictive.

Because you are 12, 13, 14 or 15 years old, you still have great hearing and even better powers of concentration. You follow the conversation with your best friend, but you also monitor the conversations of the kids around you; sometimes engaging in several conversations at once. Every once and a while, there will be an outburst from someone at the end of the table, or the neighboring table and you'll shout down, "Wad-i-dy say? Wad-i-she say?" And the comment is repeated and this is followed by uproarious laughter all along table. Occasionally that will result in kids from other tables, further away from the source leaning in to find out what was said.

This is Twitter. The conversations are ofter between or among a pair or a small circle of friends, but occasionally the conversation is expanded to the surrounding tables.

And then you have a day like we had when Michael Jackson died, or better yet, the day that jetliner landed in the Hudson River. I say that because I was on Twitter that afternoon and remember seeing the innocent tweet, "...a jet has just landed in the Hudson River."

Sometimes these events comes through one of the many news feeds that are broadcast on Twitter similar to the teacher announcement on the PA. But most times these conversations start as something one person says to another and then gets repeated and repeated (retweeted) until literally everyone in the cafeteria is talking about it. They may talk about it for minutes or hours, or even days.

So, what is the content of these conversations on Twitter? Just the same as you would hear in any group of people: he-said-she-said, the latest gossip, what did you watch on TV, what movies did you/do you want to see, the latest ball scores...and on and on. Occasionally, there are serious conversations, "what ya get on your social studies test?" "You going to the dance?" And often times they are rhetorical and frivolous, "Harry Potter rocks!" "55 ways to make a million dollars..."

This is Twitter.

Just like in the cafeteria there are the people who say very little and closely monitor what others are saying. Then there are the motor-mouths who never shut up; the kids who have clever and witty things to say, and those you repeat the same story or joke over and over again and again.

And you find yourself listening more to some, and less to others. And some folks are so obnoxious, you just stop listening to altogether.

This is Twitter.

About then my audience says, why the hell would anyone want to participate in that?

Good question....

The answer? You'll have to try Twitter to find out.

And be sure to follow me!


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