It seems like every time Twitter comes up in conversation, at least one person wants to know what it is and why it’s important to be Twitter-literate (Twitliterate? Twiterate?)
Why, when there are so many ways to communicate, would you join a service that allows you to write only 140 characters worth of text at a time? My husband, who is new to the Internet, has referred to it as “texting the world.” Who wants to do that?
I’ve had some doubts of my own lately. But then the last two weeks happened and I witnessed a variety of things take place on Twitter. These events ranged from the historic (the unrest in Egypt) to the adorable (watching Rupaul learn to tweet) to the personally relevant (The Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington D.C.) After all that, I’m in love with Twitter again.
The main reason for my renewed interest in Twitter is the AWP conference, which taught me to use Twitter in a more interactive way than I had been doing. I’m no novice – I started tweeting as a journalist three years ago. But for the most part, that was a way of sharing the content that I (and my employer) produced, and occasionally it was a way of breaking news.
The high point of the AWP conference was, for me, a panel entitled Thinking Beyond the Book, which was hosted by Jane Friedman, and included Christina Katz of Empowering Writers, Kevin Smokler of BookTour, Andy Tucker of Electric Literature, and Al Katkowsky of Question of the Day.
All the attendees were asked to tweet the panel with the hashtag* #awp11. Our tweets were displayed on the screen at the front of the room. And, to some extent, the tweets enabled all 200 of use to communicate with each other and the panelists without interrupting the discussion. It was like being permitted to pass notes in class, only the notes were all related to the class subject material.
One of the writers told the panel that she hated the idea of Tweeting, Facebooking and blogging. “There’s a lot of crap out there,” she said, and she was correct. There is a lot of crap out there. But I think the good stuff shines through, and, to quote the Connecticut Lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. You might have a brilliant blog, but not as many people will find it if you don’t tweet about it. Smokler said it best when he compared writers to supermarket cheese samples in Friday’s panel discussion – supermarkets hand out samples because they know that people might not spend $14.99 on a cheese they’ve never tasted. In the same way, readers might not spend $14.99 to read an author they’ve never heard of. So the blog, and the tweets? Those are your cheese samples.
Obviously, you should try not to produce crap. I do think it’s important to be Twiterary, and by that I mean tweeting with sound grammar and spelling, and tweeting interesting subject material, but let’s face it, that’s not always going to happen. Not every tweet is going to be a perfectly-crafted, intriguing little haiku. Some tweets are virtual garbage. But then again, 70 percent of the stuff I say out loud is garbage. If you tweet a little junk now and then, so what? You’re just proving to your followers that you’re a human being, not a content generator.
I continued to tweet the conference afterward and it was like being able to experience it twice: once online and once in person. If it weren’t for Twitter, I would not have known what Junot Diaz and Joyce Carol Oates said in their remarks. If it weren’t for Twitter, I would not have been able to experience some of the highlights of panels that I could not attend. Nor would I have met a few new Twitter friends, or tweeps, face-to-face.
* For the uninitiated, a hashtag is a search though all the tweets on the Internet. If a person is tweeting about school, he or she would but the # character before the word #school. That tweet would then be put into a list of all the #school tweets on Twitter. If enough people tweet about #school, that search will show up as a trending topic on Twitter. In other words, it will be featured on Twitter’s homepage.