Twitter is a tool, and so is Maureen Dowd

I was cruising the blogs here at CNET Asia when I came across Isabella Chen’s recent post “Twitter? Why not?“. Isabella, a fantastic blogger out of Singapore, opens her post by explaining: “To be honest, I don’t really get Twitter.” A lot of people seem to share this lack of understanding about the world’s current “it” topic.

Certainly, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd does, as she so comprehensively illustrated in her recent twinterview with Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams. “I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?”Whereas Isabella at least conceeds that her lack of “getting” Twitter doesn’t stop her from understanding that there may be a use for it, Dowd plays the cocky, ignorant fool throughout her column (that’s paid journalist speak for “blog post”). She at one point, ironically, uses Twitter criticism from bloggers as some sort of limp punch.

I have little doubt that Dowd was using her shiny, NYT-branded soapbox not so long ago to attest the uselessness of blogging at all. I can almost hear her voice shouting out: “What? Give everyone a voice? But what will they say? Surely it wont be near as important or significant as my opinion. Why clutter up the medium with prole-speak?”

As many once assumed with blogs, Dowd seems to believe that just because Twitter is swamped with users, it means that by joining Twitter you are forced face first into the stream to be washed away by a current of nugatory life moments from strangers.

Throughout her interview with Biz and Evan she references the torrent of useless stuff people tweet about. But she rather tellingly avoids the real question–so what? People blog about the weather and how their most recent trip to the supermarket went–it doesn’t take away from the value of all blogs, it just makes those blogs useless. And like useless blogs, and columns for that matter, you don’t need to read them.

Likewise, there are entire forests being clear-cut to allow garbage tabloid and advertorial “newspapers” to grace newsstands, and yet we’re not calling into question the entire journalistic endeavor. So why then does Twitter get held to a different standard?

Twitter is a tool. It is a way in which a large network of people from across the world can communicate and share information quickly and topically. For myself, it keeps me up to date on current events, gives me access to tools/links/sites/etc. that I would not normally have heard of, allows me to economically and effectively communicate with a wide audience and gain multifaceted insight into an endless array of topics.

Twitter is what you make it. Judging Twitter based on its use by Ashton Kutcher, Oprah or Sally Mallrat does the medium a disservice. It is just that, a medium. A method. Calling it a “toy for bored celebrities and high-school girls” is a bit like calling the invention of the telephone, radio, TV or the Internet the same.

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