Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To twitter or not to twitter

Chris Matthews of Hardball had an interesting show last night. It was interesting because the subject matter of one of the debating points was Twitter.

Twitter is a new pseudo-instant-messaging program, which I'm not entirely convinced will catch on with my age group, but which seems to be taking off with those in their 30s and 40s in the business world. Twitter members release what are called "tweets." Tweets are often much like a Facebook "status" or a kind of AIM away message. The person has a character maximum of a small amount, with which they can use to post links or information about what they are currently doing or seeing.

The reason this new program caused a stir is because a large number of congressional senators and representatives were posting tweets during President Barack Obama's recent speech to Congress. One senator posted as many as 15 tweets during the hour-long speech, some of which were about a game coming up on ESPN2, and some poked fun of Pelosi's over-the-top cheering and smirking to everything that came out of Obama's mouth. I also want to add that it wasn't a Republican attack on Obama, because Democratic senators were doing the exact same thing.

So the debate question was thus: Is it rude to be doing such activities during the President's speech?

The arguments for both "sides" are essentially as follows:

For the tweets: Multi-tasking is the way of the world; I am encouraged that our political system has adopted senators who are constantly putting information out there.

Against the tweets: Are you kidding me? The information was about a basketball team, not a political agenda. Furthermore, mocking Pelosi publicly and then blaming a staff member is neither polite nor unifying.

For the tweets: But come on. Did you see Pelosi? She totally has a crush on Obama, omg.

Against the tweets: True, but it isn't Obama's fault that Pelosi likes him. He just won a tough election and there is a lot on America's plate. The fact that all the senators who appeared on the television playback were looking at their blackberries, not the President, sends a bad message to citizens watching. It looks as if Congress doesn't care what the President has to say. There is a time for instant messaging, checking mail, and tweeting. During his speech wasn't it. Rude is rude.

For the tweets: Like you never doodled during an hour-long speech.

In other words, it isn't just teenagers and college students who are sucked into new technology and losing their grasp on common decency. High school teachers and college professors often prohibit the use of electronic devices during classes/lectures because doing so is not only a distraction, it is rude. With each new gadget or program, people continue to lose the person-to-person contact that went along with life. Now employees in a lot of fields can get away with never having to talk to anyone, because they have email and AIM and Facebook and Twitter, so why would they bother?

In my opinion, whether the tweets were rude or not was never really a question. Of course it's rude. What was rude five, 10, or 15 years ago is still rude today. The only difference is that more people seem to be ok with it. That doesn't suggest the action isn't rude, it suggests a general apathy towards productive human interaction. So the real question is, are we going to condone such behavior and accept it as collateral damage of information technology?

This isn't a new question. It's basically the same question posed by the older generation to the younger from decade to decade (minus "information technology"). But in this case there is no age separation. The separation between those who know better and those who don't care is impossible to define.

The only answer may be to educate. If you see people behaving rudely or disrespectfully, say something. I'm not suggesting a lecture. I'm saying a simple, "Your president is speaking," would have sufficed, and it probably would have embarrassed the senators under question. I think they assumed it didn't matter because of the number of people in the room. I would hope those same senators wouldn't do the same thing during a one-on-one conversation, but I have seen that happen, too, so I won't hold my breath.


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