Column 207 — Twittering it all away (and that belated Cursive review)…

Category: Blog — @ 6:52 pm January 29, 2009

The funny thing about Twitter is that — like all social media — people who know about it or use it think that everyone’s using it. That flat-out simply isn’t true. Twitter still seems to only be emerging now as something more than a one-to-many chat device for kids with too much time on their hands. It’s become integrated into some consumer-targeted companies as an extension of their customer service / support function. For example, if you bitch about Zappos.com on Twitter, a Zappos guy may see it and contact you (My flat, flipper-like feet prevent me from buying shoes online). Airlines and local transit authorities are providing service updates via Twitter. And of course every ad firm in America is now trying to sell its clients on using Twitter to market their shit, presumably to a young, tech-savvy audience with a very short attention span.

I’ve yet to see it effectively used by bands or record labels. There are natural limitations to Twitter due to its inherent brevity, which seems to breed a perception of frivolity or insignificance to the very messages it communicates. Still, if used in a focused manner, it could become a timely vehicle for delivering news and other information, if not live music reviews…

Column 207: In a Twitter
The end of conversation.

Back in the old days — a few short years ago — just blogging was enough. People had a way of electronically publishing their ideas — no matter how mundane — in a format that was accessible to the entire world via the Internet. Bored college students in Toledo could now share their insights with bored college students in Gdansk about such nail-biting topics as: what they had for dinner, why they’re pissed at their boyfriend/girlfriend, and what’s on TV.

Now along comes Twitter. Well, not just now. Twitter’s been around since 2006 (according to Wikipedia, which itself has been around since 2001), but it seems like no one started using it until last year. Oh sure, there were a couple Twitter pioneers (drones who will proudly boast that they’ve been Tweeting (the verb form) for years), but the technology — and the term itself — only just entered our vernacular in the past year or so (or mine, at least).

Brief tech discussion: Twitter is a browser-based “social networking” environment that limits its users to 140 characters per post. The limit is there, in part, to facilitate the use of cell phones as input devices, along with the web. It also forces people to strenuously self-edit themselves, to carefully hone their ideas to only the most critical few words. Each comment answers the universal question: What are you doing? The result: Briefer discussions about what’s for dinner, boyfriends/girlfriends, and what’s on TV.

Unlike blogs (but like Facebook, which is another slice of entropy altogether) people search Twitter for their friends, and then “follow” them. Twitter aggregates everyone you’re “following” into one inane conversation, each comment conveniently time-stamped, something like:

Husker_power: Hungry. Taco Johns tonight fur shure. about 3 hours ago from TwitterBerry
Santinofan: Watching Top Chef. Ariane got screwed. Padme where are you? about 5 hours ago from web

And so on. Twitter appears to be a natural de-evolution of human interaction. Soon all discussions will be limited to Tarzan-like grunts, culminating in: “Poop. Pee. Eat. Poop. Screw. Eat. Simpsons. Poop.”

So why all this discussion about Twitter? About six months ago, I logged onto Twitter for the first time. You can “follow” my tweeting online at: twitter.com/tim_mcmahan. I quickly discovered that “micro-blogging” has its advantages. Take CD reviews, for instance. Instead of spending hours writing gripping, nuanced examinations of an album’s true meaning, I only have room for:

tim_mcmahan: Listening to the new Ladyfinger album. Brutal fun.

or

tim_mcmahan: Listening to new Springsteen. Nothing new here *yawn*.

Conversely, Twitter allows bands, record labels and assorted famous folk to keep in touch with their fans. I now know what The Willowz (thewillowz), Saddle Creek Records (saddlecreek) and Lance Armstrong (lancearmstrong) are having for lunch. For better or worse.

One perceived value of Twitter is the real-time nature of the medium. Instead of text messaging to one person, you’re text messaging to all of your “followers” at once. To test Twitters’ capabilities and limitations, I took my iPhone to Slowdown last Saturday night for the Cursive concert and annoyed everyone within a few feet of me by tapping in the following comments throughout the evening. Here’s the transcript/review:

tim_mcmahan: Full house. I’m buying Rolling Rocks two at a time. 10:34 PM Jan 24th from mobile web

tim_mcmahan: House music is Michael Jackson, or at least it sounds like Jacko. 10:37 PM

tim_mcmahan: Nice. Kasher’s voice sounds husky. 10:57 PM

tim_mcmahan: Classic Kasher rant. “Bark bark bark.” 11:11 PM

tim_mcmahan: Seems like they’re working trumpet into every song these days. For better or worse. 11:14 PM

tim_mcmahan: Some of this new stuff sounds like The Good Life. The convergence keeps getting closer. 11:31 PM

tim_mcmahan: Halfway through the set. Ted Stevens finally switches from the 12-string to his LP. 11:34 PM

tim_mcmahan: Kasher says he’s got a sore throat and is drinking hot tea. He sounds fine. 11:41 PM

tim_mcmahan: “What Have I Done.” Kasher’s back to the self-referential lyrics. Songs about writing songs. 11:44 PM

tim_mcmahan: His most soulful song since Domestica. 11:46 PM

tim_mcmahan: Cornbread on drums changes the entire complexion of Cursive. They swing now, moreso than the old frontal assault of Schnase. 11:54 PM

tim_mcmahan: Off stage now. Encore’s next. This is a longer set than Union Hall. 11:55 PM

tim_mcmahan: Back. With “Art is Hard.” Crowd loves it. Kasher’s right. Mostly kids huddled along the stage. 11:59 PM

tim_mcmahan: Never get tired of hearing “The Martyr.” 12:04 AM

tim_mcmahan: Okay, now his voice is giving out. 12:06 AM

tim_mcmahan: Struggling through “Sierra.” The last song of the night. 12:11 AM

tim_mcmahan: Kasher takes over the drum kit. 12:13 AM

tim_mcmahan: That’s it. Kasher won’t be talking for a week. 12:14 AM

Just like being there? Not really. Looking over the comments the following morning, I wondered if they needed to be augmented with explanations, but realized that anyone who knows me and what I write about understands the shorthand. They know who Kasher and Cursive is. They know the song titles and the terminology. And if they don’t, they can always find out. On Myspace or Facebook. On YouTube. On Wikipedia. Or on Twitter, which is effectively shoe-horning the world into a conversation that’s only 140 characters wide. For better or worse.

* * *

The Black Squirrels are playing tonight at The Waiting Room with Robin James Hurt and Lincoln Dickison (Monroes, Bombardment Society). $7, 9 p.m.

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