Is Twitter a Lens or a Microphone?

On Friday, September 23, I was thrilled to welcome to campus @alexiahudson, a research library from @PSUAbington.  I invited Alexia to come speak to my honors research methods course, as all of the students at a recent open mic for Constitution Day said they did not have Twitter accounts and didn’t see the use for one.  I immediately knew Alexia could come and talk about some exciting uses and trends with Twitter.  Why Alexia, when I use Twitter myself?  Alexia had the honor of being one of about 40 people selected to join President Obama in the first-ever White House Twitter Town Hall!

Alexia started with a simple (or not-so-simple question)… is Twitter a lens or a microscope?  That led into the following highlights from her talk:

  • The 20th century was a time of information consumption.  The 21st century is a time of knowledge exchange (consumption, content creator, participant, citizen journalist)
  • Twitter is action without the opportunity for pontification
  • In Twitter, words count and determine influence.  The key is… do people think enough about what you are tweeting to share with other people?

Alexia also shared some interesting uses of Twitter beyond the White House tweetup, such as the Columbia Business School’s decision to have students write in 200 characters or less why they should be admitted – yes, that was the application essay!  (see article 1 and article 2 for more information)  She also shared how the Library of Congress is archiving tweets (see article 1 and article 2) – yes, what you post online really won’t go away.

In the end, Alexia summarized her thoughts by stating that Twitter is the merger of personal, communal, public and civic engagement.  I couldn’t agree more.  Apparently, the students are on board with this as well – one student, currently upset about a certain issue, has created a Twitter account to spread the word and hopefully see some positive action come out of her concern!

Alexia recommends reading the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project report on Twitter 2011.  I’m asking my students to come up with a 140-character thank you for Alexia.

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