Matt Labash Hates Twitter

April 29, 2013

This weekend, the Weekly Standard unleashed a 10-page, 8,000-plus-word barrage by Matt Labash aimed at Twitter and the technophiles who populate South by Southwest. You should read the whole thing—Labash is one of the best long-form journalists working today—but here’s a representative taste:

If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m not a Twitter fan. In fact, I outright despise the inescapable microblogging service, which nudges its users to leave no thought unexpressed, except for the fully formed ones (there’s a 140-characters-per-tweet limit). I hate it not just because the Twidiocracy constantly insists I should love it, though that certainly helps. Being in the media profession (if "profession" isn’t overstating things), where everyone flocked en masse to the technology out of curiosity or insecurity or both, I’ve hated it reflexively since its beginning. But with time’s passage and deliberation, I’ve come to hate it with deeper, more variegated richness. I hate the smugness of it, the way the techno-triumphalists make everyone who hasn’t joined the Borg feel like they’ve been banished to an unpopulated island, when in fact the numbers don’t support that notion. Even after seven years of nonstop media hype, only 16 percent of Internet users tweet, the same as the percentage of 14-49-year-olds who have genital herpes. The difference being that the latter are not proud of their affliction, while the former never shut up about theirs.

I hate the way Twitter transforms the written word into abbreviations and hieroglyphics, the staccato bursts of emptiness that occur when Twidiots who have no business writing for public consumption squeeze themselves into 140-character cement shoes. People used to write more intelligently than they speak. Now, a scary majority tend to speak more intelligently than they tweet. If that’s a concern—and all evidence suggests it isn’t—you can keep your tweets private, readable only by those you invite. But that reduces your number of "followers," so almost nobody does it. A private Twitter account cuts against the whole spirit of the enterprise—a bit like showing up at a nude beach in a muumuu.

He goes on like that for a while. It's quite entertaining.

Now, if I wanted to be snarky, I could point out that my friend Matt is a noted technoscold. In 2002 he unleashed a stem-winder against DVDs (in favor of VHS!) and the pernicious influence of Blockbuster Video. But it would be cruel to dwell on this (or the fact that he now loves DVDs and regularly laments the fate of Blockbuster). I’m not going to stoop so low.

Instead, I’ll gently suggest that he is ignoring the best use of the medium and has let his distaste for the Twitter Triumphalists to cloud his judgment. Getting upset at Twitter for its inanity—and there’s no shortage of inanity on the social media service—is kind of like getting upset at books for Fifty Shades of Grey or Mein Kampf or getting upset at television for Arli$$ or Tyler Perry’s House of Pain.

If you use Twitter to spend all day getting in fights about serious policy issues, you’re doing it wrong. If you use it in the hopes of gaining deep truths about the future of humanity, you’re also doing it wrong. If you use it to post photos of food you purchased in a restaurant, I hate you (and you're doing it wrong). If you’re using it as a highly personalized aggregator of information on the Internet, however, you might actually get something out of it.

Marc Tracy touched on this a bit in a recent New Republic essay chronicling the rapidly evolving media landscape and the rise and fall of the personal blog:

Less and less do readers have the patience for a certain writer or even certain subject matter. Instead, they use social media to efficiently pick exactly what they do and do not click on, rather than reading what a blogger or blog offers them. In part due to his melodramatic intellectual style, Sullivan's blog was almost like a soap opera pegged to the news cycle—which I mean as the highest compliment. Smith's blog, too, had its specific scoops (Jewish politics, labor politics). And Media Decoder frequently brought a Times-type sensibility to media stories not big enough to merit their own staid articles in the ink edition. A necessary byproduct was that even if you were a devotee, you were not interested in about half of their posts. You didn't complain, because you didn't have an alternative. Now, in the form of your Twitter feed, you do, and so these old-style blogs have no place anymore.

I’m with Tracy in feeling some sadness at the decline of the personal blog. However, Twitter is a fantastically useful sorting mechanism: By following people you find interesting, whose taste you trust and whose sensibility you find compelling, you can whittle the rushing river of information on the Internet down to a more easily waded stream. Twitter-as-filter is much more useful than Twitter-as-communication-device.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to tweet this blog post out in the hopes that a few people will be interested in reading it, retweet it to their followers, and help spread the word. (And then I'm going to take a photo of my sandwich and share it with the world. The people deserve to see my sandwich.)

Published under: Media