A bite-size brain in a world of trivia

A short essay defending the reasons I quit Twitter

How do you explain Twitter to someone who hasn’t a clue? Like Facebook status updates in 140 characters? A micro-blogging phenomenon? News for those with short attention span?

I have been an active user of Twitter since July 2008 but have recently quit. It has been a week since I made this decision – a week since I have not woken up to grapple the iPhone next to my pillow and groggily scroll through tweet after tweet.

So many words, so little space
But first, let me laud its advantages. Twitter taught me that much can be said in a few words. A man of few words, they say, speaks concisely or not at all, yet is a man of substance. Proverbs in the Bible teaches that even a fool would be thought wise if he keeps quiet (Proverbs 17:28).

Examples include the Chinese language, which is excellent at packing a punchful of meanings in three to four-syllable expressions. The Sun, Britain’s number one tabloid, can explain a complex story in an 80-word article when broadsheets like The Telegraph and the Guardian drone on.

Twitter is also immensely useful to journalists who can ‘crowd source’ from eyewitness tweets, notably during the Iran election in 2009 when protesters were able to provide real-time information. The wife of the recent Nobel Prize Winner, Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, was able to comment on her situation via Twitter while under house arrest.

Closer to home, Greater Manchester Police this week was able to show how one third of calls dealt with are not serious crimes but pranks and petty domestic disputes best classified under ‘social work’ in a Twitter experiment.

A bank of thoughts
Twitter has its goodness, but alas for me, it is merely a bank of thoughts where I deposit random musings that pop into my mind. It is also a collection of quirky little phrases I pick up during the day from books, movies or conversations which I intend to use at a later date if suitable.

Before there was Twitter, I had the reliable notebook. I then advanced to typing in my mobile phone and saving them as drafts to ponder over and expound at a later time. Along came Twitter and it became my new pool of thoughts, a place where I could sporadically spit out my observations, irks and opinions – mostly unconnected to each other if viewed consecutively. These thoughts swim around aimlessly in Twitterspace until I decide to fish them out if I think they might be of use to me again.

They are, in essence, little trivias about what I understand and observe of my surroundings, without pressure for further elaboration like in an essay or a prolonged conversation. Twitter soon became a place for me to make heehee-haahaa comments on what others are sharing, either by agreeing or disagreeing, retweeting or replying.

So why did I choose to quit? Why did I choose to wipe out my thought bank? Because most, if not all, were fleeting thoughts – raw, unrefined and unpolished – thoughts that called for no accountability and no further elaboration. They are thoughts that may briefly amuse, but rarely encourage contemplation, and can only be described as passing comments that require unnecessary documentation in cyberspace.

A bite-size brain
Twitter soon provided me a platform from where I can easily express my half-baked thoughts and opinions, and encourage it does, due to its high accessibility and convenience just a ‘send’ button away from the mobile phone or computer.

Have a look at a selection of my own tweets:

1. Manila ‘The Pearl of the Orient’? I thought Penang was!
2. Do guys really go to work without a bag?
3. If America is a young lady, then Britain is definitely an old man.
4. Evaporated milk upsets my tummy
5. Love the feel of bare feet on wooden floors
6. Learning to store things on cloud space instead of computer

Do any of them mean anything to you? If they appeared sporadically on your Twitter feed, how inclined are you to mull over any of them? Would it be easier to keep scrolling through until you reach the last round of tweets read?

These phrases were written for myself, and therefore I am not particularly affected if they evoke any reactions, compel any retweets or solicit any replies from my followers. Out of the six, only numbers 3, 5 and 6 have any real scope for elaboration. Numbers 1,2 and 4 would probably make good trivia or conversation starters at cocktail parties.

The message is the medium
Of course, many who read this would not share the same experience and opinion, on the sole basis that you and I use Twitter for different purposes. Like advertisements, Twitter is a structure, a tool which is used by me and for me. I have made it my thought bank, others have made it their daily log, photo journal, marketing tool.

I have become both the subject and the object. Twitter and its user have a symbiotic relationship – I take it, and I make it what I want it to be. In return, it helps create who I am, my identity, which is made up of all the things I’ve observed, commented, loved, despised, things I’ve done, places I’ve been, people I’ve spoken to, food I’ve eaten.

Solid food, not milk
Twitter moulds, shapes and encourages me to express myself in a certain way (concisely) and by writing in a certain way (140 characters). This would result in me thinking in a certain way (briefly), creating a certain habit (hurried), adopting a certain trait (impatience?) and becoming a certain person …. (Hasty? Selfish? Irresponsible?)

Twitter, like television, is a medium which influences how a message is created and perceived – in my case, quickly, fleetingly, without much thought and consideration.

In short, Twitter made me impatient and stupid.

But before I go, I have a confession to make. Writing this essay has already taken me three days and as a result, my brain is hurting from not having articulated an argument since I finished at university (it’s been two years).

I titled this “a short essay” at the beginning in order to attract readers, but I am eyeing the word count and wondering how many have made it to this point without skimming or skipping over paragraphs.

If that’s you, well done. From this day on, it shall only be solid food for you and I.

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