Goodreads’ list of Top 100 Literary Novels of All Time is one of the most helpful and significant pages on the web. It provides users with classic literature that they may have missed out on in High School English (shoutout to Mr. Tokerud), and suggests something useful to do in our limited spare time. Lately I’ve realized that this list is just compiled of things that I “swear I’m going to get to someday” while much of that valuable free time is spent staring at a screen with the Twitter app open. I have not read the vast majority of the books on Goodreads’ list, but I probably could’ve read Infinite Jest and War and Peace multiple times over with the accumulated amount of hours spent reading 140 characters at a time.
Many of us today are phone addicts whether we can admit it to ourselves or not. One of the main symptoms is Twitter. We wake up in the morning and check Twitter before we get out of bed, check it the next moment we’re bored or uncomfortable in public, open the app a few more times throughout the day, read some tweets before bed, and continue the same cycle the next day. While Twitter addiction isn’t nearly as detrimental as some others (nobody has ever overdosed on retweets), there are some side affects that people who use the app regularly should recognize.
A couple weekends ago, I opened Twitter for the first time that weekend on Sunday afternoon. I spent much of the weekend travelling and was too busy to constantly refresh my feed. When I finally got back inside the app, I felt like a new kid with nowhere to sit at lunch. Everyone was posting pictures of random objects with cowboy hats on them and people could not stop internet laughing. I had no idea what in tarnation was going on. All of these people were having fun without me. I felt lost, alone, and afraid.
Fear of missing out is one of the main human behavior traits that social media companies profit on. They are no longer worried about you giving them money, they are concerned with taking your time from you. I don’t know anybody close to my age who watches CNN or Fox News once they are at home. Twitter and other social media sites become their source for news. Whether it be the latest political bombshell, a new album leak, a blockbuster NBA trade, or the next influential meme, Twitter users are constantly looking to be in the loop about whatever comes next. Twitter has become a news, entertainment, sports, comedy, and internet content network that is tailored specifically for the individual user. The way Twitter allows information and content to be spread widely in a short period of time is revolutionary, but allowing users to be exposed only to information and opinions that they personally want to see can become problematic.
The latest presidential election still feels like a dream sometimes and ended in a shocking result. Not only did every major poll say it was a near certainty that Hillary Clinton would win, the people who supported Hillary saw countless op-eds, think pieces, famous comedians, actors, entertainers and more bashing Donald Trump. It was like support for Trump didn’t exist even though he kept mysteriously advancing to become the Republican nominee and eventually the President of the United States. Technology and social media sites designed to tailor to each of our specific interests has formed a bubble around many of us and the people we know. The bubble stops us from knowing what opposing views are and, even worse, restricts us from knowing whether certain opposing views even exist.
Before iPhones and Twitter, discourse was taking place in the media that people consumed. A national newspaper or television news channel provided you with opposing views.The views may have come from a headline that you scoffed at or a talking head from the other side of the argument that was there to enrage you. You may not have dug into the opposing view but you at least knew one existed. We are living in a digital age where Twitter only provides you with headlines that are designed to fit into your interests and beliefs, and over 90% of those headlines won’t get clicked on so the full story is not understood. It seems the only time an opposite view does emerge on one’s timeline is when it is being verbally attacked by its oppostion, influencing those who witness that attack to pile on.
No Healthy Debate
People can become nasty when hidden behind their online personas. I’m not even referring to the trolls who write slurs and death threats in reply to every famous person’s tweets. I once tweeted Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and told him that my 2nd grade class could’ve created a better show than Family Guy. This statement was objectively untrue and a mean thing to say to someone. If Seth MacFarlane happened to be at a small gathering that I was at, there’s no way I would just be flooding him with different insults throughout the night. That’s one of the major problems with communicating on Twitter, people treat the person they’re arguing or engaging with as just letters that form a user name, not a human being sitting behind a screen just like you are.
The character limit that Twitter provides to you makes even friendly debates about light topics a pointless exercise. An argument about who should be the NFL’s MVP between the two most well versed sports fans you know would still take place with little to no amount of nuance. With the 140 character restriction that Twitter puts on people, they have no opportunity to parse what the other person just said and respond in kind. Instead, people are just vomiting takes through their fingers all over the other person. Prefacing an argumentative tweet with “I had never thought of it that way” or even “good point” puts too much of a dent into those precious 140 characters, and trying to change someone’s mind is as pointless as a soap flavored Tootsie Pop with dirt in the center. One tweet you’ll never see on your feed is “@PersonImArguingWith you’ve obviously done more research on this matter and am way more informed than I am. I concede this debate to you. Have a good day.”
I am not calling for everyone who reads this to revolt against Twitter or to seek help for their Twitter addiction. Twitter has become one of my most reliable allies in awkward social situations, waiting rooms, and boring classes. I will continue to use the app on a near daily basis. I just want people to be aware of this new niche culture that has many benefits but can also be problematic in a lot of ways. The advice I would give is to always seek out every side of an issue that you feel passionate about. And, whether you are face to face with a person or talking to a person across the country through a screen, just don’t be a jackass.
Management information systems major at U of M. Seeking a certificate in big data analytics.