10 Things Twitter Taught Me About Media -- and Myself

Stop Whatever You're Doing! I Don't Care If You're Busy! There Is No Time to Wait! You Must Read This Right Now!

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As 2009, the Year of Twitter, draws to a close, I just want to express my appreciation to the microblogging service for teaching me some important stuff about myself and about how the media world works right now. Namely:

WOODS: Hey, CNN, did you hear about Tiger?
WOODS: Hey, CNN, did you hear about Tiger? Credit: Timothy A. Clary
1. I generally don't really need to know stuff right now.
Like, I'm not a transplant surgeon, so I don't need to know if a kidney in an Igloo cooler is landing this very moment on the heli-pad atop the hospital I work in. I am not a fireman, so I don't need to know immediately if there are small children believed to be living in the top floor of a burning apartment building. I am not an air traffic controller, so I don't need to know that a single-engine Cessna appears to be about to head into the flight path of a commercial jetliner. Chances are, you're like me. (To the surgeons, firemen and air traffic controllers out there who may be reading this, well, God bless you.)

2. That said, I really, really like to find stuff out right now, right away.
Even if it's stupid, completely worthless stuff. Like, I happened to check Twitter's "trending topics" list on my iPhone not long after Adam Lambert freaked people out with his tasteless, pervy performance on the American Music Awards broadcast on ABC (which I wasn't watching live), so I knew within minutes of his tasteless, pervy performance that he'd just freaked people out with his tasteless, pervy performance. Yay me!

3. Being "among the first to know" is an illusory thing.
Twitter is all about "real time" knowledge, which gets people all excited because they feel like they get to be among the first to know. They get to be ahead of the curve! Except, well, when they're really not -- because, like, in the case of Adam Lambert's tasteless, pervy performance, millions of people saw it on live TV in actual "real time" before it became a Twitter trending topic (and some of those millions, bizarrely, refrained from tweeting about it).

4. Being among the first to know -- or thinking you're among the first to know -- can give you a little adrenaline rush.
Like: Oh my God! Tiger Woods is in "critical condition" after a car accident?! A minute ago I didn't know that, and now I know it, thanks to Twitter! And, holy crap, it's not on CNN yet! CNN is so slow and pathetic! Twitter's better than CNN! I'm better than CNN!

5. That "knowing now" adrenaline rush is addictive.
And so far, I'm not giving up my Twitter crack.

6. What's known immediately is often wrong.
Tiger Woods, of course, turned out to not be in "critical condition" and was quickly released from the hospital. Likewise, many people believed that because a soldier on the base during the Fort Hood massacre was tweeting about multiple shooters -- well, she was right there in "real time," so that surely must have been truer and better than what the pathetic old mainstream media could report from a distance after-the-fact, right? Except, whoops, she was wrong. And before that, how many zillions of people (I confess I was among them) tweeted and retweeted nonsense about a certain boy supposedly trapped in a runaway balloon craft?

7. People convinced that it's vitally important to know stuff immediately about the world outside of their immediate circle -- personally inconsequential stuff -- used to be considered freaks. But, go figure, not anymore.
Remember? Regular folks used to wait until the afternoon paper showed up, or the evening news, or maybe even the next morning's paper hit the lawn, to find stuff out. If they had cable, and they got wind of something big -- maybe a friend called, or maybe they heard a news bulletin on the radio -- they might turn on CNN. If they happened to be on a computer, maybe they'd occasionally check a news website.

Meanwhile, folks who felt they needed to know things before those regular folks came off as sad misfits -- like that old widower down the block who was always glued to his police scanner, or that weird greasy-haired kid from the fifth grade who had a CB radio and was always the first to know if there was a pileup at that dangerous intersection right by the Southridge Mall.

8. Devoting a lot of mindshare to "knowing now" about the wider world can make you stupider about your immediate surroundings.
Like, knowing about Tiger Woods' car accident right now -- before knowing about a car accident in your own neighborhood: Is that really so useful? To those who argue that the social-media "location-awareness" trend will allow more and more people to stay attuned to, yes, their own neighborhoods: Well, what about staying attuned to their own households, to the people around them, to themselves?

9. Twitter's long-term prospects are dependent on a fundamental shift in human behavior.
For Twitter to continue to flourish, more and more people must become convinced that it's more important to regularly devote time to communicating right now with the people they're not with, than the people they are with. Verizon's got that commercial in which a son says "Dad? Cool it with the Twitter updates, OK?" Dad ignores him and says out loud, as he's tweeting on his cellphone, "I'm ... sitting ... on ... the patio." It's funny, it resonates, because we all know Twitterheads (and Facebook updaters) like that. But how many people like that, as a percentage of the population, can there really be? And can they keep it up indefinitely?

10. "Knowing now" is, let's face it, kind of exhausting.
@simondumenco: I am tired, Twitter. Really, really tired.

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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco

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