Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, is certainly not its tweeter-in-chief.
As we predicted here, Keller followed up his provocative “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” tweet with a 1,200-word column in this weekend’s New York Times magazine (“The Twitter Trap”) expounding his problems with the social messaging service.
“Last week my wife and I told our 13-year-old daughter she could join Facebook,” Keller’s column begins. “Within a few hours she had accumulated 171 friends, and I felt a little as if I had passed my child a pipe of crystal meth.”
Unfortunately, crystal meth pipes are not the only dated references Keller made.
Typing pretty much killed penmanship. Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans. And what little memory we had not already surrendered to Gutenberg we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?
Keller not only sounds out-of-touch; the column feels like it should’ve been written in 2007, when Twitter first gained traction and Google was killing our memory.
The most obvious drawback of social media is that they are aggressive distractions. Unlike the virtual fireplace or that nesting pair of red-tailed hawks we have been live-streaming on nytimes.com, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. Every time my TweetDeck shoots a new tweet to my desktop, I experience a little dopamine spritz that takes me away from . . . from … wait, what was I saying?
Twitter is the enemy? Dopamine spritz? What?
After trying to explain his “mistrust of social media” and questioning whether social media tools like Facebook and Twitter “are genuinely ‘social,’” Keller gets to his “masochistic experiment” of his aforementioned tweet.
It produced a few flashes of wit (“Give a little credit to our public schools!”); a couple of earnestly obvious points (“Depends who you follow”); some understandable speculation that my account had been hacked by a troll; a message from my wife (“I don’t know if Twitter makes you stupid, but it’s making you late for dinner. Come home!”); and an awful lot of nyah-nyah-nyah (“Um, wrong.” “Nuh-uh!!”). Almost everyone who had anything profound to say in response to my little provocation chose to say it outside Twitter. In an actual discussion, the marshaling of information is cumulative, complication is acknowledged, sometimes persuasion occurs. In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others’ opinions are stunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid.
It’s also worth noting that the version of Keller’s column posted online Wednesday contains no direct links to the tweets he references.
Keller ultimately concedes that “Twitter is a brilliant device” for “[organizing] everything from dog-lover meet-ups to revolutions” — but one that makes him “anxious.”
As for that “#TwitterMakesYouStupid” discussion, it seems like we found out who the “you” is.