The downside of twittering as Japan goes at it 24 hours a day
The debate persists as to whether the web expands our horizons or narrows them; whether it fosters knowledge, ideas and thought or, by dignifying them, mediocrity and mental bilge. The advent of Twitter in 2006 heightened the controversy. Is it good for us to be awash in “tweets” of 140 characters or less? Is this “communication?”
“I’m not saying don’t Twitter,” writes web planner Junichiro Nakagawa in Shukan Post (April 23). “I’m not issuing a warning that Twitter is turning us into idiots.” This is obviously leading up to a “but,” and when it comes its unexpectedly mild, given that he’s led off his article by stating, “As someone who works on the Net, I have complained that the web is a haven for fools and people with nothing better to do, a community not of wisdom but of stupidity.”
“But” what, then? “But expectations that Twitter can change society… are too high. It’s best not to expect too much – not only from Twitter but from the web in general.”
True, Twitter tweets helped keep Iranian protests going last summer against an allegedly stolen election by a government that controls the press and deploys compliant security forces. True, also, that Barack Obama used Twitter to overcome overwhelming odds against his outsider’s bid for the U.S. presidency. On the other hand, as Nakagawa notes, Obama stopped tweeting after coming to office.
“I myself find the tweets of people in my industry useful,” Nakagawa says. “I admit that Twitter has the potential to make it easier for us to communicate valuable information.” The real-time quality of tweets is another advantage.
The trouble is, he says, tweeting becomes compulsive, whether there’s something to communicate or not, and most of the time there isn’t. Why tell the world, or even your friends and “followers,” “I’m eating now.” Who cares?
In four years, Twitter has corralled some 70 million tweeters worldwide, 5 million of whom are Japanese. If Japanese flock to Twitter, and to Internet chat rooms in general, says Nakagawa, the prime appeal is anonymity, which allows a socially constrained society to throw off its shackles. Good, but chronic vacuity is a powerful argument for self-restraint. “If you have no valuable experience to impart, or valuable point of view to communicate, there’s simply no point,” Nakagawa rather diplomatically sums up.