by Liz Faris
Social media has changed the way younger generations view the world. Globally, social media reportedly reaches almost 85% of all 15 to 24 year olds. We take these social networks with us everywhere on our phones and it is estimated that by 2014 mobile internet use should exceed desktop internet use. These changes are shocking to those of us that can still remember accessing the internet via dial-up and the AOL voice telling us we have mail. As a member of the “Social Media Generation,” I have participated in the internet madness, as social media went from something fun to something necessary to stay relevant in today’s world. I followed the crowds as they moved from AOL Instant Messaging to MySpace to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Now, one of the fastest growing social media sites is Twitter, with almost 500,000 users added daily. Although I long held out against joining the masses in the Twittersphere, I recently succumbed. Still new to site and with an “embarrassingly” low number of followers according to a friend, I can begrudgingly already see why the site is as popular as it is.
I have always felt a tension between my enjoyment of social media and the feeling that these websites are taking over my life. Frightening statistics show that reportedly 57% of people talk more to people online than in person and 28% of 18 to 34 year olds check Facebook before even getting out of bed in the morning (it pains me to admit that I am part of that 28%). Social media use has become a full-fledged addiction in our society. Over the summer, after wasting countless hours “stalking” people on Facebook or aimlessly clicking through pictures that I didn’t actually want to see, I decided enough was enough. I tried to cut back on my Facebook use, deleting the majority of my “friends” (most of whom I probably would not say hi to in person) and restricting what most remaining people could view. Twitter was the last thing I wanted to start up with on my social media diet. After listening to numerous people talk about what insipid celebrity “tweeted” what, I took a decidedly anti-Twitter stance.
Twitter was unappealing for several reasons. First off, the phrases and vocabulary associated with it are incredibly annoying. Twitter comes with its own terminology, with followers, following, tweeting, tweets, #hashtags, and trending. Familiarity with these terms differentiates between in-crowd that is on Twitter and understands how the site works and the ignorant, non-Twitter users. Although it’s relatively easy to figure out after using it for a few days, the ins and outs of the site aren’t readily apparent. As an outsider who didn’t “get it,” I viewed the Twitter crowd with a mixture of disdain and jealousy while wondering what trending was.
Beyond the vocabulary, Twitter also seemed like a worse waste of time than Facebook. You can follow anyone’s tweets so most people follow a few friends and then a bunch of celebrities. Friends who used Twitter constantly talked about celebrity gossip they saw on the site. This is something I have no use for in my life, and besides reading trashy magazines on planes (you know you do it), I try to avoid knowing about who is dating who or who is addicted to what. Along with celebrity gossip, friends used Twitter primarily to tweet at friends in the next room or that they live with and would speak to later in the day. Most annoyingly, because of the constant update of tweets, many Twitter users I spent time with would check Twitter rather than participating in conversation with the people they were physically with.
The concept of Twitter also seemed daunting. I had no problem with reading other people’s tweets, but that’s only half Twitter. The idea of sending my 140 character thoughts out into the great unknown of the Twittersphere requires a confidence that people want to hear what I have to say. I was plagued by the idea that I have nothing interesting, funny, or unique to convey. Even more paralyzing than tweeting to Twitter as a whole is tweeting to specific followers. What do I have to say to the odd assortment of people from high school and a few friends from college? Absolutely nothing.
I finally got on Twitter for a few reasons. A friend, who also used to hate Twitter, found an internship through the site. This was a clear sign to me that Twitter can be used for far more than just celebrity gossip. Whether we like it or not, Twitter has become an essential part of many career fields. Tweets and hashtags have become a form of communication, no matter how dumb it sounds, and Twitter influences fields like journalism, marketing, and public relations. To paraphrase my PR professor, people are talking about your company/brand/campaign on Twitter, it’s just a matter if you’re a part of the conversation or not. As a college senior who will soon be out in the job market, I couldn’t continue to be an outsider that didn’t understand Twitter. According to professionals I’ve spoken with, social media know-how has become an important skill, as more companies than ever are using social media to market themselves.
Another reason I started using Twitter was because a professor showed me how Twitter is revolutionizing the way we receive news. Our class had guest speakers Andy Carvin and Sultan Al-Qaasemi talk to our class about how they use Twitter. Both of their accounts have been praised as being among the best Twitter accounts in the world and they use Twitter to give second to second information about what is happening in the Middle East. Al-Qassemi translates information for English-speaking journalists and followers and Carvin uses his wide follower base to verify information about events happening halfway around the world. Whether you care about what is happening in the Middle East or not, the way Twitter can be used as a source for information is astonishing. I try to keep up with what is going on in the world but I don’t sit and read a newspaper everyday. I’m trapped in the bubble of a college campus, and between classes and working, the world outside my immediate surroundings takes a backseat. With Twitter, I have updates from the largest news sources on my phone in quick little blurbs that I can scroll through while on the T or taking a coffee break. Depending on whom you choose to follow, you can get instant updates from around the world. Twitter accounts for major news organizations tweet hundreds of times a day and there are users all over the world who can give real time information about what is happening in their locale.
While Twitter has benefits, it still has its drawbacks. Even now that I know how the website works, the vocabulary is still unpleasant. I refuse to discuss what is or is not “trending” on Twitter. Hearing people pepper their speech with “hashtags” or verbally end sentences with “hashtag sorry not sorry!” makes me cringe. Although, thankfully, many Twitter users refrain from using spoken hashtags, the “#” concept has annoyingly made its way into texts, Facebook, and emails. Twitter language should stay on Twitter, as far as I’m concerned. Also, I find Twitter primarily a waste of time. Although I have been more aware of what is happening in the world because of Twitter, I spend more time reading tweets from comedians I follow than from news organizations, if I’m being honest. As much as I would like to get off social media entirely, it keeps pulling me back in and in today’s world, it might be a necessary evil.