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Why Is Text So Permanent? Nir Rosen’s Twitter Mistake

Recently I wrote about how we can get caught up in Twitter trends. I was talking about riding the wave of trends we see on Twitter. I didn’t mention how we can just as easily get swept up in a trend of our own, and how we are even more likely to lose sight of our goals when we do get too involved in one particular message.

A journalist at NYU, Nir Rosen, seems to be the latest high-profile case of Twitter Contagion. Rosen has left a post and claims to have left Twitter after a rash of bad reaction to his tweet that belittled a female journalist’s experience in Egypt. She claimed to have been sexually assaulted (which seems common in Egypt), and Rosen chided her in his tweet:

Rosen's controversial tweet

If you look at Rosen’s beginning tweets about Egypt, you can see he communicates that he had neglected tweeting about the revolution because he had been traveling, and then he gets more and more involved from there.

Getting wrapped up in your own cause on Twitter is almost unavoidable. What used to be an impassioned conversation with friends at a coffee shop now is a series of “for-the-record” statements. This is where the easy use of Twitter can ruin careers. Because of the small amount of space and the general Twitter culture, tweets seem so casual. And indeed, they should be. Why shouldn’t we be able to send off snippets of our thoughts online? They are passing thoughts, one-offs, statements to be regarded without esteem. For example, your commuter friend on the train would take your “I hate this subway system and wish it out of existence” statement as nothing more than a typical Monday-commute grumble. She wouldn’t take it as a serious missive and in turn you in to the Homeland Security authorities.

Rosen beginning to tweet about Egypt

Twitter, unfortunately, is made up of text. Permanent, easy-to-search-for text, and text in our minds hold a greater weight than video. Live movement connotes passing ideas. Static movement relays a permanent idea. Twitter is a mix of the two, a passing, written idea. We haven’t, as a culture, come to grips with this new media. We don’t know how to regard it. Seasoned Twitter users can disregard grumbly statements as simple grumbly statements. But the world still equates text with “belief.”

I’m not sure where text and live movement should meet. Obviously on this blog I’ve advocated that we shouldn’t update carelessly on-line, but I’ve also lamented the fact that I can’t, that I feel restrained and cut off from communicating with friends because I can’t tweet or update casually. Will text come to be seen by us as “not-so-important”?

My guess is Millennials already see text as fleeting. There are some kids who average well over the 1000s of text messages a day. They’ve grown up in chat rooms. Their communication world is dominated by text. I’m sure there are times that they are shocked someone posted something, but their minds must look at the controversial post as something that will be forgotten and buried and never referenced again. Sure, they all realize that text messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, can all be searched and printed out, but why bother? It’s just a text message, it’s just a tweet. No big deal.

But our (very litigious) society is based on text, and perhaps the Millennials haven’t been sued or fired or blocked enough yet to realize that Text Is Still King. Text takes the uncertainty out of “He Said, She Said.” Text eliminates the revisionist history rampant in “It’s His Word Against Mine.” (as does video, too. Let’s think about this another day).

What will be first? We will become less litigious or less based on text-as-Bible? My guess is that we will soon come to regard text as casually as we regard the Monday-morning swear words. Or, perhaps we will categorize text. Tweets will be seen as grumblings, Facebook updates will be seen as lawn signs, and blog posts will be seen as legal documents. Who knows? But we definitely need to adjust either our views of online postings or start putting certain kinds of text in their place.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Be careful; it’s text!

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