#Keller *Clarifies* That #Twitter Isn’t *Only* for #StupidPeople. Discuss.

May 18th, 2011

Only a few hours after Keller’s full-frontal assault on the Twitter generation, which I analyzed here, the Executive Editor of the New York TImes has already started retreated. He sent an update to Times blogger Nick Bilton, who posted the comments here.

Here is his reply:

First, I wish you had made clear (as the Twitter torrent mostly does not) that I praise Twitter and Facebook rather effusively. My column does not advocate that Twitter be censured, censored, abandoned or ignored, even if any of those things were feasible. Twitter and Facebook are ingenious devices, and they happen to be wonderful tools for disseminating (and, up to a point, helping to create) great journalism, about which I care mightily. All of that I said emphatically in the column.

Second, my point is not that Twitter makes us stupid. That was a hashtag I tweeted, a premise followed by an invitation: “discuss.” I sent it to demonstrate that for all the things Twitter is, it’s not a very good venue for intelligent discussion. And if the response to my “Twitter makes you stupid” provocation didn’t convince you that Twitter is ill-suited to real discussion, the tweeters’ response to my column should. I am, of course, delighted that so many people have sent it on, and humbly surprised at how many actually agreed with it. And I always feel a spurt of delight when somebody uses this haiku-sized format to produce something clever, whether it’s in my favor ornot. But I don’t think anyone would hold up this stream of tweets as a proud example of an enlightening colloquy. In fact, many of the reactors seem either not to have read what I wrote, or to have read it with threadbare attention. A fair number were more concerned about the fact that my column didn’t link to a couple of tweets (which I had quoted in their entirety) than with the substance. The scary part is how fierce and faith-based some of the reaction has been. I mean, lighten up. This isn’t your religion we’re talking about. Or is it?

What I said in the column is that we pay a price for progress, and we should pay it wittingly rather than have it siphoned secretly from our bank account. And we should consider whether the price is worth it. If Facebook is displacing real friendship, if Twitter is diminishing actual conversation, then maybe that’s a good reason to limit how much of your life they consume.

The bolded portions really summarize the crux of Keller’s argument, which he does not withdraw. He does not view electronic communications through Twitter as “enlightening.” If Facebook “displacing real friendships”–which it most certainly is–and “diminishing actual conversations”–it most certainly does, then society should limit access to it.

Alexia Tsotsis has a good reply at TechCrunch:

If Keller spent more time on social media, he’d understand that when it comes to the colloquy sparked by the Internet, what you see publicly posted on Twitter and Facebook is just the tip of the conversation iceburg.  Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I’ve now discussed The Twitter Trap privately (through DM) and publicly with multiple friends, colleagues and industry leaders who I’ve both met and have yet to meet in person. And his experiment has certainly provided many bloggers with an easy opportunity to prove how well they write. 😉

Sure Twitter displaces “real friendships,” but it creates countless virtual friendships. Sure there is less “actual conversation,” but there is an immeasurably larger amount of virtual conversations, that in my instances, are more effective than “actual” convos.

Bilton has a bit more of a reply to Keller’s original piece, which I post here:

There is a fear by many, Mr. Keller included, that these devices will wipe out our ability to remember and force us to become dependent on the virtual world. Luckily for us humans, our brains do not work this way. Research shows that the human brain is capable of adapting to new technologies in less than a week, irrelevant of age or intellect.

As I’ve written in the pastMaryanne Wolf, the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts, points out that our brains were never even designed to read. This “technology” is something that we have to train our brains to do.

In the same way that we hack our brains to read, we are not going to flush away our powers of memory by adopting tomorrow’s technologies.

Our current skill-set, as it existed before Twitter, is not some type of ideal state. Human behavior and abilities evolve over time. With new technologies, we need new skills. Memorizing is not as important as it once was.