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Trying to Keep up with . . . Twitter?

retirement skills sylvia bereskin Jun 22, 2009
social media

by Sylvia Bereskin

photo by Gerald

It’s so easy to be left behind when you’ve retired

Having more time at home—as I’ve already noted—means that I’m much more vulnerable to the news as it unfolds.

I use the term “vulnerable” here quite pointedly. B.R. (before retirement) my exposure to television news was fairly limited: a few minutes in the morning while I got ready to go to work, a quick glance at an online paper at noon in case anything important had happened while I was immersed in the needs of school children, a CBC news update at 6, and “The Daily Show” at night. I will admit that I was a bit thin on news-watching; understand, though, that I’m married to a news junkie so never have to fear about being too uninformed because I can absolutely count on David to keep me well informed. Anyhow, back to S.R. (since retirement and also my first two initials). I’ve been very nervously watching what’s transpiring in Iran. Does it surprise me? No. So . . . what am I writing about here? Did you see Hillary Clinton on TV the other day (just before she evidently fell on the way to her car in the State Department parking garage and broke her elbow; I wish her a speedy recovery)? She was in the spotlight because of the demonstrations following the mock election in Iran. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. government asked Twitter to delay a planned maintenance outage because of its use as a communication tool by Iranians following their disputed election. Twitter? Why is it worthy of attention from the U.S. State Department?

“The United States believes passionately and strongly in the basic principle of free expression,” the Associated Press quoted Clinton as saying. “We promote the right of free expression. And it is the case that one of the means of expression, the use of Twitter, is a very important one, not only to the Iranian people but now increasingly to people around the world, and most particularly to young people. 

“I wouldn’t know a twitter from a tweeter, but apparently it is very important,” Clinton went on, eliciting laughter.

Until very recently I didn’t know very much about social media (I’m still quite limited, although terms like MySpace, Facebook, Wiki, YouTube (did I tell you I’ve even got video clips of excerpts from my presentations on YouTube?) and blogosphere now roll off my tongue. Andy (Nili’s husband) has been talking to me about how important social media is—and being a part of it all—and encouraging me along for some time already. Motti’s pretty “into it,” too, and so are my nieces and nephews. Me? Mostly around the edges but not entirely “out of it.” Not convinced though. Until yesterday, when watching the news and seeing the same story and the many interesting discussions on TV it generated, everything became oh so clear.

Social media.

I’ve put a wee bit about Twitters and tweets at the end of the posting if you’re new to this. First, back to Hillary’s twitters.

Well, according to Ali Akbar Dareni and Nasser Karmi, Associated Press writers: “Iran’s supreme leader sternly warned of a crackdown if protesters continue days of massive street rallies, escalating the government’s showdown with demonstrators demanding a new presidential election.” Undoubtedly this crackdown would include cutting people off from communication from outside of Iran, isolating them and hiding from the world what is really happening. Because of Twitter, however, Iran’s Ayatollah in Chief (I wonder if we should be comfortable with the politics of any country that has a “Supreme Leader”—and they aren’t talking about a backup group for a Motown singer) just can’t do that any more. Newscasts, bereft of the insights and coverage provided by reporters in the field (a tip of the hat to them), are using tweets as the source of their understanding about what’s going on. They’re even receiving video clips. The broadcasters seem to be consistently letting the viewers know that what they’re showing can’t be confirmed but after that they run the clip and then have a panel discussion about what they’ve just all seen . . . considering it as “news.” I see the light and the gloom in this. Making freedom of speech real through a technological inability to suppress the power of our very human need to talk to each other is fabulous. Further lowering the standard of the newscasts we get—perhaps by replacing reporters with open-source video clips—makes me shudder.

The thing is that most of us (us meaning those in my age group) sort of poo-poo social media. In fact, over the last few days every time I’ve been with a group of friends I’ve at one point asked each of them two questions: (1) Do you have a Facebook page? and (2) Do you have a Twitter account? Each time it’s led to an interesting conversation that included the general sense that this is all a waste of time. I’m starting to think that we all have to take a step back . . . or forward . . . and realize that this is now the way of the world and if we want to stay connected then, like it or not, we might need to Twitter (or at least have a Twitter account). We have a friend whose mid-80s Jewish mother Zelda has been computer savvy and quite active in several social networks online, sometimes even looking for a good man on J-Date. My mother and her friend Eleanor met in a computer course. Those are the role models we need.  Although my frustration—witness my frequent hair-pulling while trying to figure out how an iMac works or what just happened to that thing that “poof” disappeared from my screen—with technology is abundantly clear,  in the end I’m starting to think that it’s where we’re—culturally—going and I, for one, don’t want to be left behind.

At the same time I’m worried about all of this. Why? I don’t want to be reduced to communications of 140 characters. I don’t want to talk in what—when I was in government—we called “sound bites”; those pithy things that politicians say that are just the right length for a headline. I want to have room in my communication to really dig into things—to seek for understanding, to see the nuance in things. I don’t like abridged versions of novels. I don’t like the Coles Notes version of anything (do you remember them, they could take a Shakespeare play and bubble it down to under 10 pages; today you get the same sort of thing through SparkNotes online). I like to sit around—by a fire or by a lake or near a mountain stream—and really talk about thoughts and ideas, look at them from different perspectives, place them historically, sees the pros and cons, make connections to other thoughts and ideas.

Sitting writing my blog. Very satisfying. Thinking things through. Paying attention. Hard to keep up; trying to just keep moving forward. Living adventure. [133 characters]

Now, as promised, a little more explanation in case you’re new to this . . . and interested.

What is Twitter? Twitter is a free social-networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read each others’ updates, known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to other users—known as followers—who have subscribed to them. You’ve got to find a way to communicate using very few words.

Who’s using Twitter? Until the last presidential campaigns I’d have said it was mostly used by edgy, techno-savvy young folks. Then last year it was used—pretty effectively it seems—by several of the campaigns. Now it’s being used to fuel resistance to tyranny in Iran. Even I have a Twitter account; I have seven “friends,” which means that I get their tweets and always know what they’re doing and thinking: my friends include my son-in-law Andy, my son Josh, Barack Obama, Brent Spiner, Al Gore, my sister Molly, and somebody called Evan Williams who invented the term “blog” and is the man behind Twitter too. Actually, all of these bits of information coming in, which are supposed to make me feel connected to these other folks, ends up just making me kind of jumpy as my iPhone keeps buzzing as emails arrive. I also end up feeling that mostly I can’t—or don’t want to—allow myself to substitute e-friends for the friends you go for a long walk with . . . but that’s another story. Twitter’s 55 million or so “hits” each month means that lots and lots of people are using it and the numbers seem to grow exponentially.

Ah—and one last thing. A Tweeter is a kind of bird. All I could find out about them is that they thrive in Washington state. Beyond that I got nowhere. Pretty though.


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