The Tweet Tweet Show

 

PRESENT TENSE:IT SOUNDS A bit pathetic, but there was no better way to watch the first Late Late Showof the season than through Twitter.

Now, I’m guessing that the very mention of the word Twitter is enough to have sent some readers scurrying off to another article, delighted that they’ve just saved themselves a few minutes of reading time; time they can spend doing something they’re more interested in – namely not reading yet another bloody article about Twitter.

There’s always a problem in writing about these kinds of subjects, because those who get the whole Twitter thing – or the Facebook thing, or the Spotify thing, or whatever thing it’ll be next month – tend to be those who are actually active on these sites. That’s quite a few, obviously, but there are a great many people who aren’t.

And because of that disconnection, they find any discussion of how these sites change the world to have no relevance to them, or they find themselves unable to understand the articles because they don’t understand how the idea works. Or they are too cynical, having read similar stuff written about Second Life or some other trend that died the very week after everyone promised it would change how we lived.

Or they just find it utterly, utterly tedious.

Twitter, in particular, is the current thing that divides those who get it from those who don’t and really don’t want to. There is a feeling, expressed regularly on Twitter of course, that the media are among those who don’t really get it. Or at least that the media usually treats it as something through which people verbally belch; on which its users tweet such crucial utterings as what they’re having for lunch, what they’re eating for lunch and what they’ve just had for lunch.

That’s true, of course, although complaining about people babbling on Twitter means first overlooking the fact that about 95 per cent of human communication, in any medium, is banal. In speech, it’s largely umms and errs and what we might have for lunch. We don’t exactly go around discussing Beckett all day.

And when Twitter is reported in the news pages it tends to be as a quirky story. There were a couple this week. There was a guy in England whose house tweets various bits of information about what temperature it is, what windows have been left open and what it’s thinking of having for lunch (okay, maybe not the last one). It was a popular story in papers here and across the water, and the Twitter angle is what provided the headline every time even if it was not at all representative of what Twitter is about.

There was also some blob of research suggesting that Twitter makes you dumber while Facebook makes you smarter. Facebook is good, it was said, for what is called “working memory” because it requires keeping track of past actions and making plans. It is the Sudoku of social networking sites. Twitter, on the other hand, is about instant communication. It does nothing to aid your attention span. And what did we learn from this research? That when you give out press releases about your research, it’s really useful to include some spurious link to the trend of the moment.

The media, then, often misses the stuff that makes Twitter really interesting; its function as what has been called – rather giddily – a hive mind. If you want to have a look into the rolling thoughts of the Irish public, about the closest you’ll get at the moment is Twitter. During national events, it is like a news ticker, except it scrolls thoughts across the screen.

There have been many notable recent moments for Twitter, and in Ireland the Late Latehas provided some – most notably its Eurosong special when a collective commentary broke out on Twitter that added layers of wit to the dollop of the surreal, daft but earnest spectacle that was on the telly.

Last Friday was as enjoyable. It was like watching the Late Latewith a large crowd of people, but, instead of being drowned out by the din, each had an equal voice. Even as you watched, with the telly flickering and the netbook or phone balancing on your belly, and your eyes doing a Marty Feldman so as to watch both at the same time, it was clear that Twitter added something special. It brought honesty, gut reactions, a lot of intelligence and some great jokes.

Television is often talked about as being the one medium that can fully deliver collective national moments. Ryan Tubridy’s first show was one of thoses. But Twitter wasn’t just another way to watch the show, it accentuated that collective moment. That’s something more impressive than a house that tells you how chilly it is.

shegarty@irishtimes.com