Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Twitter: Streamlining America's Political System to 140 Characters or Less

A Venn diagram is worth 140 characters (Image)

The beauty of a democracy is that it allows the common man, woman, or recently deceased man or woman to express their opinions on local, state, and national issues through voting.  Through this process, we are able to influence decisions that may govern our daily lives and national livelihood, often while having limited understanding and uneducated opinions regarding those very issues.

For an example of this phenomenon, let us turn to the topic global warming.  Those that are squeamish or have numerophobia should be advised, I'm about to hit you with some stats.  Don't worry, I'll make it quick.

In a 2011 poll conducted by Yale and George Mason universities, 47% of the general public said that they believe in global warming and that it is caused mostly by human activity.  Compared that to 97% of climatologists who are active publishers on the topic, as found in a 2008 Gallup poll.  Of those polled in the Yale study, 48% of the general public said they were either "not very worried" or "not worried at all" about global warming.  This is good news, because if they believed all those pesky data and facts that are swirling around, they'd shit themselves.  And no one wants to deal with something like that on an uncharacteristically hot day.

Our beautiful democracy has a downside.  The people making the decisions on global warming aren't climatologists with expertise in complex atmospheric processes.  They are average Americans that often know more about the British Royal Wedding than they do about the periodic table.  Now I could drop upon you knowledge concerning subjectivity, trusting expert opinions, and blind political allegiance, but it won't change anyone's minds.  And if it did, I don't want anyone's soiled underpants on my conscience.

Hypothetical and hyperbolic shit stains aside, we live in a country where one of our preferred forms of communication forces us to compress our thoughts into 140 characters or less.  To put this in perspective, that last sentence would have ended after the word "compress" if it were written on Twitter.  Now the sentence just seems to imply that our communication systems forces us to make either ourselves or our amount of feces smaller and/or more tightly packed.  In a society where oversimplification, obesity, and poop jokes already run rampant, Twitter becomes a dangerous tool.

On July 20th, Twitter will host a debate for 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls.  The idea behind the debate is to reach a wider audience and new demographics, as well as to make me lose any shred of hope I had left for American political and social discourse.  In a country where our elected officials argue like children and responded to questions with a string of words often unrelated to the question they were asked, some asshole thought it was a good idea to make them simplify things like economic and foreign policies to 140 characters or less.

The debate, which is scheduled to feature Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Thaddeus McCotter, Tim Pawlenty and Rick "For Shit's Sake Please Don't Google Me" Santorum, will be carried using Twitter, and will direct question asked by all Twits wishing to participate to the potential presidential candidates.  This debate format is a great idea, in the same way that having a campfire inside a well-furnished, gasoline-soaked log cabin surrounded with explosives next door to an orphanage is a great idea.

Mitt Romney's camp decline the invite and expressed concern with the format, citing worries that he would not be able to properly relay his opinions on important issues in under 140 characters.  However, Todd Ceferatti, head of the debate's host, TheTeaParty.net, stresses that the format allows candidates to issue as many tweets as they want in a two minute period, so oversimplification will not be an issue.  Others hope the format will force candidates to be straight-forward and answer questions directly, instead of talking around topics to avoid saying things they might have to be held accountable for.

Or--and this is a big Or--candidates may just continue to spout their usual geysers of bullshit, only with fewer words and more grammatical errors.

Against my better judgement, I did some cursory research on the Twitter, as I have never before used it, despite friends occasionally lobbying for me to sign up.  It burned my eyes and chaffed my soul, but I did it for you, Reader.  I did it for you.

The average person types at 40 words per minute, with each word considered to be 5 characters in length.  At this rate, we can assume that the presidential candidates will be able to submit 400 characters in their allotted two minute answering period, which through complex arithmetic works out to 2.85 Tweets per minute, or around 80 words.

In order to provide me with basic understanding of a given issue and sway me on their opinions, I asked a few friends familiar with the Twitter to explain to me in two minutes and under 80 words what Twitter is, why it is important, and most importantly, why I should care.  Below are the responses I received.

Twitterer #1: "Twitter is a social networking site that allows you to follow people that interest you.  I use it to track players in poker tournaments, follow goings on in vegas and get inside athelete's heads.  I also use it as a way to tell my family what I am doing without actually talking to them.  I find it a good way to see what people are doing in the world of sports and pop culture."

Twitterer #2: "Great for spreading articles fast. Your jokes are short, as are the tweets. Shit"

Twitterer #3:

Imagine that the above statements are written by political leaders that will be responsible for allocating your tax dollars, your company's tax dollars, and the structural integrity of other countries' buildings and citizens.  Besides the antisocial behavior, gambling problems, poor grammar, profanity, and concerning level of interest in the lives of celebrities, none of them satisfactorily answer the question that was asked.  One didn't even answer the question at all.

After bouts of depression, breaks to eat ice cream while weeping softly, and anger throughout the research process,  I believe I have a basic understanding of what Twitter is, and why people like it so much:
o    Doesn't take much effort;
o    Requires minimal grammatical, spelling, or typing skills;
o    Twittererers can "retweet" things that they like without fact checking them or understanding their content.

For a list of reasons why people should dislike Twitter as much as I do, besides the fact that I'm handsome and handsome people are always right, please refer to the list above.

While I am willing to acknowledge that Twitter is a valuable tool for business outreach, Middle East revolutionary organization strategies, and keeping Shaq busy when he is injured, it has little to no place in politics.  It reduces the quality of discussion on important issues, it undermines people's ability to research and think critically, and it exhausts all potential ways to make a joke about the genitalia of a man named after genitalia.  Even grade schoolers on our nations playgrounds have become disillusioned with the word "wiener."  And if our next generation of gifted diplomats can't call each other by the most basic of schoolyard insults when they grow up and run our country, will they be able to say anything at all?
Well, yeah, they probably will.  But seriously, Twitterers, cut the crap.

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