TEN best

by Jordan Green



YES! Weekly Editor Brian Clarey scorns Twitter as a waste of time, but I beg to differ. As a social media tool, it’s going to run circles around blogging. Twitter is outward looking, while blogging is territorial. Twitter places a premium on new information while blogging emphasizes argumentation. Twitter is proactive, while blogging has a reactionary effect that is built into the medium’s feedback loop. Think about how much wordage is wasted on distracting personal conflict and rearguard defense on blogs. In contrast, Twitter users have 140 words to make their point. If it’s a good one, it gets re-tweeted. Similarly, Twitter users regulate the quality and type of information they receive by choosing who to follow, avoiding the trap of pointless ego conflicts.


For me, Twitter came of age the day after the catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti. Similar to the way texting became the communication tool of choice for friends and family attempting to reach loved ones on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Twitter has provided a steady stream of on-the-ground, individually relevant information from Haiti.

The phone lines went down but the internet remained connected at Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, where proprietor Richard Morse (RAMhaiti), began providing a steady stream of pithy reports within a hour and a half of the earthquake. Within hours Morse was receiving tweeted inquiries about the welfare of loved ones, and sending back posts about whether this or that person had been heard from, about damage inflicted on notable buildings and conditions and needs in specific areas. A tweet made at 10:58 p.m. on Jan 13 is a particularly is typical: “I look at the sky, see the stars, and it’s as if nothing was wrong. The singing, the praying and the siren bring me back to reality…. Haiti.”


I read all sorts of breaking news on Twitter, most of it fairly incremental — a new poll on a politician, a member of the US Congress or NC Senate announcing they won’t stand for reelection, a particular agency such as the US Army mobilizing to send aid to Haiti, but on Jan. 13 I learned some news from Twitter that was truly momentous: Teddy Pedergrass, the Philadelphia soul singer behind such sensual classics as “Love TKO,” was dead.


Pat Robertson’s comment that the Haitian people “swore a pact with the devil” to throw off the shackles of French colonialism comes to mind. In truth, I first learned about this from Facebook, so maybe it’s not the strongest attribute of Twitter. Two days later, Robertson’s unfortunate remark was still a major trending topic. Lots of users are commenting on a letter from Satan to Robertson originally published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune including someone from Brazil. A tweet by DJjeffyjef sums up the general sentiment: “I’m in the mood for a People vs. Hungry Lions match with Rush and Pat Robertson in the ring.”


I’ve been tweeting highlights from my reading of Taylor Branch’s masterful Parting the Waters: America In the King Years 1956-63. Probably more useful is Greensboro marketing professional Seth Hall’s (middle8media) running report on his involvement with the Elephant Sighs film shoot in High Point, which admittedly links to his blog posts on the subject. Updated scores on basketball games in progress are a natural use. And during the Greensboro City Council hearing on the planned aquatic center last month, Cara Michele Forrest and I provided running coverage.


Example: Sherealcool, a Twitter user with 472 followers who describes herself as “Writer/PhD student/SoldierofLight&Love,” writes moments ago: “NYC: Can u recommend a good sportsbar with substantial colored patrons where I et al could watch football tomorrow?”


E-mail is a terrible way to reach people — it’s so cluttered with spam and mass mailings that people go for days without checking it. MySpace is only useful for tracking down people in bands. Even Facebook is becoming somewhat cumbersome. I put out a request for outside input on the topic of this article and within three minutes had this response from News & Record Editor John Robinson (johnrobinson): “Better control of trolls; more response to requests; more conversation; wildly interesting people; quicker; easier….”


My Twitter followership is embarrassingly modest — 78, as of this writing, compared with the aforementioned RAMhaiti, who was about to break 10,000, last I checked. But I’ve had some high profile entities sign up to receive my updates:

Elaine Marshall (elaine4nc), the NC secretary of state and Democratic candidate for US Senate; Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker (CoryBooker) and the Associated Press (AP).


If I were to add up the cumulative hours, it would be hard for me to formulate a ratio of constructive communication vs. idle distraction, but I would wager that Twitter saves time rather than wastes it by providing a more efficient medium to transact information. Its network encourages new relationships to be forged and its speed encourages action in the temporal plane.


Of course, medium isn’t everything: The quality of the correspondent makes a big difference. About five years ago, if you wanted to most authoritative source about homelessness in Greensboro, you read Cara Michele Forrest’s blog. Now you follow her on Twitter (caramichele, streetwatchgso). A recent dispatch illustrates her talents: “Giving Miss Yong breathing treatment in ambulance, then going to hospital. HealthServe next door wouldn’t help my homeless friend.”