Along those lines, there was a good blog in yesterday's New York Times:
The Twitter Train Has Left the StationBy NICK BILTON
George Packer usually writes about foreign affairs, politics and books for The New Yorker, but this week he decided to attack Twitter in a blog post that ironically got much of its attention because a link to it was reposted more than 700 times on Twitter.
“Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop,” he writes. “The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Packer’s misgivings seem to be based entirely on what he has heard about the service — he’s so afraid of it that he won’t even try it. (I wonder how Mr. Packer would feel if, say, a restaurant critic panned a restaurant based solely on hearsay about the establishment.)
“Twitter is crack for media addicts,” he writes. “It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it.”
Call me a digital crack dealer, but here’s why Twitter is a vital part of the information economy — and why Mr. Packer and other doubters ought to at least give it a Tweet.
Hundreds of thousands of people now rely on Twitter every day for their business. Food trucks and restaurants around the world tell patrons about daily food specials. Corporations use the service to handle customer service issues. Starbucks, Dell, Ford, JetBlue and many more companies use Twitter to offer discounts and coupons to their customers. Public relations firms, ad agencies, schools, the State Department — even President Obama — now use Twitter and other social networks to share information.
There are communication and scholarly uses. Right now, an astronaut, floating 250 miles above the Earth, is using Twitter and conversing with people all over the globe, answering both mundane and scientific questions about living on a space station.
Most importantly, Twitter is transforming the nature of news, the industry from which Mr. Packer reaps his paycheck. The news media are going through their most robust transformation since the dawn of the printing press, in large part due to the Internet and services like Twitter. After this metamorphosis takes place, everyone will benefit from the information moving swiftly around the globe.
You can see that change beginning to take place. During the protests in Iran last year, ordinary Iranians shared information through Twitter about the government atrocities taking place. That supplemented the reporting by professional journalists, who faced restrictions on their movements and coverage. More recently, after the earthquake in Haiti, Twitter helped spread information about donation efforts, connected people to their loved ones, and of course, spread news from inside the country — news that reprinted in this publication.
Finally, there’s the filtering, entertainment and serendipitous value of these services, as I outlined in a previous post.
Ironically, Mr. Packer notes how much he treasures his Amtrak rides in the quiet car of the train, with his laptop closed and cellphone turned off. As I’ve found in previous research, when trains were a new technology 150 years ago, some journalists and intellectuals worried about the destruction that the railroads would bring to society. One news article at the time warned that trains would “blight crops with their smoke, terrorize livestock … and people could asphyxiate” if they traveled on them.
I wonder if, 150 years ago, Mr. Packer would be riding the train at all, or if he would have stayed home, afraid to engage in an evolving society and demanding that the trains be stopped.