A tool for the twits

By Chelsea Whitton

Courtesy Twitter

In my academic career at the University of Massachusetts I’ve been trained to be objective, and rarely do I have such a strong opinion on things that are supposed to benefit the academics and specifically the field I’m studying –  journalism. But I do have quite the long-time and contentious relationship with social media; mostly a dislike. I know one thing for certain – I won’t use Twitter, and I certainly won’t use it for academic purposes.

I admit that I am a bit unwilling to embrace change – as I still prefer the Microsoft Works Processor. But in my travels here at school and talking with fellow students it seems that this fall semester there is a large incorporation of social media use and requirements for academic classes – meaning that it is required you have accounts with social media sites and tools; Twitter being one of them and in my opinion the most overwhelming.

In this world of socialized media people lose their sensibility of what is meaningful. When everyone is able to release their own personalized press, doesn’t it desensitize our ability to relate with one another, our ability to converse naturally?

The academic load typically being five courses a semester in addition to a social life, a family life, a work life and time to just chill out – offers life its woes in the balance act of a college student. Twitter and its operating system seem to invoke the sense of being caught up in a whirlwind society – like living in a city that never, ever sleeps.

For example, log onto Twitter right now. Do it!  Okay, you don’t even need to logon with your own individual screen name before you start being bombarded by messages from people you don’t know; people who mean nothing to you and which you’ll never meet. Currently it’s Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and on the main Twitter page, feeds are streaming in about how Facebook is down at the moment. How will life go on?

For those who struggle with attention spans, or for those who lack focus and academic drive, Twitter may just destroy any hope. In a Dailymail.co.uk article, “Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist,” an Oxford University neuroscientist Susan Greenfield said, “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations,” she said.

The largest problem I have with Twitter isn’t that people are willing to use it, but rather that people aren’t willing to question its purpose, importance and use. My belief and understanding of why Twitter took off especially for the news media is that socialized media enforces the idea of the individual – the participant – as well as society as not a collective whole,  but one of many ideas, political views and theories. As acceptance grows, so does the range and ability in which society can express individuality. We have the First Amendment protecting our right to report and say whatever we feel inclined to within the limits of the law – so why not have everyone do this under the same medium? That is what Twitter is running on – a freedom of expression monopoly. Everyone is their own news creator. Everyone has a story to tell, a narrative, a link to post and someone to reply to.

When an academic course at UMass requires you to use social media it truly is saying something else. It is inferring that the curriculum in itself isn’t enough to support your experience– it may be undermining the importance of conversing with fellow classmates and peers in a certain major. Instead you have Twitter which falsely creates a community – perhaps interested in the same curriculum, but I think what people fail to realize is that these aren’t real connections. You don’t know the person and have a limited space in which to communicate.

It is hard to question the emerging system of which you are a part. So, instead of joining the millions of tweeters and potentially doing poorly in academics, I refuse to participate, I am essentially taking a breather. While social media users are racing to get the first word out, the first breaking news tweet, I’m interested in reading the story when the larger picture arrives, rather than a 140 character limited update every three minutes.

Journalism wasn’t meant to be fragments of quick information strung together over the course of a story unfolding leaving the reader to piece the story together. Academics weren’t meant to be a series of links and tweets providing the consumer bits and pieces of information. We are paying tuition and giving time to majors we are impassioned by, to course material which we are inspired by – we shouldn’t be giving all of our time and money meant towards academics to Twitter.

Tweets on why I won’t ‘tweet’:

1. Because when I first entered college a ‘tweet’ was something you heard outside your window as you prepared to drag yourself to class.

2. If we spent our time on more valuable things such as looking around us rather than what everyone else is spewing maybe social change and justice would be an action rather than a thought or hope.

3. Because fact is better than quick fiction.

Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]