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Reflections of a Twitter Convert

I apologize for being away from Madisonian for so long. Two new health law preps will do that to a guy! Luckily, one of them is on the law of health information technology, so hopefully that will be a new angle for blogging.

As someone who’s done many skeptical pieces on leading tech companies, I should think more about the good they’ve done us. I’ve had a pretty dramatic conversion experience the last couple of months with respect to Twitter. Though many people urged me to join in 2010, I thought it was just another flash in the pan. Worse, I dismissed the 140-character limit as an absurd restraint on communication. “Why not 26?,” I thought sarcastically, after Slate produced this satirical video:

But last month I decided I would try it out as a notification service, and perhaps a place to post notes about stories I’d saved on Instapaper (while I was reading them on my phone). I thought I’d connect with some people who were interested in similar things. Some good micro-conversations followed.

A few weeks later, Occupy Wall Street emerged as a trending term, and I started monitoring the #ows hashtag. I found the twitter “coverage” so much more interesting than the mass media coverage. I’d thought this sort of utility was only necessary in a country like Iran, with a controlled media. But it turns out that US reporters and mainstream outlets have often turned out to be too distracted or resource-starved to adequately cover an important social movement in our midst. Dahlia Lithwick discusses the implications:

For the past several years, while the mainstream media was dutifully reporting on all things Kardashian or (more recently) a wholly manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, ordinary people were losing their health care, their homes, their jobs, and their savings. Those people have taken that narrative to Facebook and Twitter—just as citizens took to those alternative forms of media throughout the Middle East as part of the Arab Spring.

And just to be clear: They aren’t holding up signs that say “I want Bill O’Reilly’s stuff.” They aren’t holding up signs that say “I am animated by toxic levels of envy and entitlement.” They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want –wait, no, we want–to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else. . . .

Mark your calendars: The corporate media died when it announced it was too sophisticated to understand simple declarative sentences. While the mainstream media expresses puzzlement and fear at these incomprehensible “protesters” — with their oddly well-worded “signs”– the rest of us see our own concerns reflected back at us and understand perfectly. Turning off mindless programming might be the best thing that ever happens to this polity. Hey, occupiers: You’re the new news. And even better, by refusing to explain yourselves, you’re actually changing what’s reported as news.

Of course, I worry that corporatization (and more sinister elements) will eventually enter this medium as well. But for now, I’m considering my 100 or so twitter feeds about as good a news source as the NYT, WaPo, or CNN.