The Caged/Uncaged Bird of Twitter

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

Hello again from London. All is well here.

To fill you in on my past weekend: I was fortunate enough to wander the beautiful city of Amsterdam and I think I experienced my favorite city so far on this European term. Before my visit, I read somewhere (I think it was in TimeOut Amsterdam – made sure to do my research before visiting) that Amsterdam was like London and Paris’ younger international city sibling that never wanted to grow up. Besides all three of these cities being somewhat sprawling and only limited slightly by the natural landforms around them, this rings pretty true – Amsterdam does have a great deal of international residents, but it doesn’t have the “all business, all the time” vibe that living in London or Paris may have. It sure does have a lot of culture though – after visiting three major museums, walking through De Wallen, Jordaan and De Pijp and exploring the Dam area, I can say that I was smitten with the city. I’ll be back, I’m sure.

Note: I may be considering these cities to be sprawling because they don’t have the defined limits that Manhattan and most of New York City have. Maybe I need to take a closer look at my own cities and reconsider.

Before I left for Amsterdam, I posted a long list of what was on my mind concerning current events and certain experiences. Hope you enjoyed that brainstorm.

So it feels reasonable to pick up where I left off, even if I had to edit my list of topics from a docket of posts to conversation points.

As a junior at an American university, I have joined the masses of applicants for internships with hopes of finding success somewhere. Sorry, camp. It’s time for me to try the real world for a summer.

Starting this process was not easy – compiling my best attributes as a student, writer, journalist, thinker and leader onto a few pieces of paper or a collective site such as this one took a lot of thought and a lot of cutting, pasting, deleting and retyping. But above all, what troubled me most during this process was putting together my “Contact” page; I particularly struggled with social media.

When I took my introductory reporting and writing course for journalism, my professor told my section to all make Twitter accounts. He told us to follow the media through Twitter – follow the companies and stations you enjoy to read, follow some dissenting opinions, follow some incredible reporters and writers, and follow some outlets that will cause your mind to stretch. So I did just that. But I had created another Twitter account much before college even began (although it is in disuse/dissolution at this time), and I was almost embarrassed to say I didn’t follow media outlets. I was pre-med at the time, to be fair, but high school version me wasn’t interested in hearing the news in 140 characters or less – something I more consciously stand by now than I did then, but for different reasons. High school Eli’s Twitter consisted of high school friends and their pun-filled handles as well as a few parody accounts and the ever-so-satisfying @CuteEmergency. That one made it through the transition to my professional Twitter – how could I say no?

What was it about high school that made me utilize Twitter in the way that I did? I sometimes enjoy, sometimes grimace at the silly things I retweeted, the thoughts I had found funny that followers did not appreciate, and the “subtweets” I had made and others I had saved to Favorites, perpetuating high school immaturity and conflict. But Twitter offered so much more at that time that I was too naïve to appreciate: it was an access to media and content that was unparalleled at the time as well as a platform for sharing that was short, sweet and to the point.

All this being said, Twitter is on the downfall. Robinson Meyer’s Atlantic piece on “The Decay of Twitter” points out the floundering of the social media site and its inability to gain new users in this day and age. Paired with excerpts from Bonnie Stewart’s post from September 2014, the article explores what has brought Twitter to its lowest – a point that can be summed up by saying that people have become more conscious of the medium’s ability to “smoosh” what is being colloquially said by users into printed, sharable material that may be misinterpreted or shared incorrectly to portray other views than what was meant to be said. Meyer puts it all into perspective:

“When you speak face-to-face, you’re always judging what you’re saying by the reaction of the person you’re speaking to. But when you write (or make a video or a podcast) online, what you’re saying can go anywhere, get read by anyone, and suddenly your words are finding audiences you never imagined you were speaking to.”

So your thoughts and words are reaching those you didn’t think of talking to, or didn’t want to reach, for that matter – this starts to sound a bit like high school to me.

In reality, Twitter is an amazing platform to voice your ideas loud and proud if you really want to. But Meyer and Stewart are right to say that as much as it can be a sounding board for things that you want to talk about, it can be “a free soapbox for all kinds of shitty and hateful statements”, such as perspectives on racism, privilege, sexual assault, gun violence, what have you. Don’t think I haven’t been checking Twitter frequently during this week’s Missouri and Yale conflicts, and the amount of hate/support I have read is worth both a smile and a scowl.

Meyer makes an extremely important point at the end of the article – the motive of Twitter, and its users, has changed over the past year:

“…the standard knock against Twitter—which had long ceased to be ‘I don’t want to know what someone’s eating for lunch’—became ‘I don’t want everyone to see what I have to say.'”

Twitter’s ability to be a medium of portraying different perspectives has in a way become too public and too prominent of a way to gain negative publicity. See: Justine Sacco. Or this TED Talk that puts it all in perspective.

With all this in mind, why is it important for me – or anyone for that matter – to still use Twitter, if it is on its way out as it seems it is? Why is it important for me to keep this informal media aggregator that I’ve created and maintained? And why don’t I use it to post my own material, if it is a professional representation of myself (if it can even be considered that)?

I might be nervous about the public view of my writing, but as a journalist I have no choice but to get over that. I will continue to keep my Twitter and check it frequently because it does have the capacity to be an aggregator of perspectives. Especially in our day in age, perspective is both important to have and refreshing to see others. A change in perspective is a key reason behind my decision to study abroad, for instance. So sometimes on Twitter taking a grain of salt with each negative soapbox comment can be important to growing our perspectives on the world that we live in.

I’ll leave you with part of a piece from Frank Chimero, a designer from Brooklyn (worth the read). Think about this next time you check your tweet feed:

“I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch—our space, our friends, with the occasional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street…For the better part of a year, I’ve been trying to make Twitter feel like talking on the porch again, but it just can’t happen. Twitter isn’t talking for anyone with more than 500 followers—it’s publishing or advertising. We’re all on the street, and it’s noisy.”

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