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The Understated Usefulness of Twitter

June 10, 2009

The shooting of two police officers on the near south side of Milwaukee yesterday was a very tragic event and my thoughts go out to the two officers and their families.  Fortunately, it appears that both of the officers will recover and the suspect was caught thanks in part to the contributions of neighbors in the area who followed the suspect as he fled and others who cared for the fallen officers.  It’s a small consolation that in the worst of situations our sense of community can show through like it did yesterday.

As terrible as yesterday’s events were, they were also a prime example of the actual usefulness of Twitter.  Within minutes of the incident, a search on Twitter produced a continuous stream of news updates and pictures (thanks to mdesisti) of the scene on 2nd & Walker. For all the local news station’s promotion of Twitter, it’s never really apparent that they understand what it is beyond the fact that celebrities use it and regular people can post boring minutiae from their daily lives. In reality, it’s best use is in situations like yesterday afternoon, when news is flowing too fast to be restricted by the normal pace of television or radio news.

One Comment
  1. Eric permalink
    June 10, 2009 3:11 pm


    I saw your most recent post and thought it perceptive on a local level. And I remember the same idea being hinted at after the Mumbai hotel attacks.

    It also made me thing of a recent post on the n+1 website: – ironically long but worthwhile

    This, in turn, got me thinking (danger!). I was considering how I feel a general kinship with the people who attended the Chicago World’s Fair more than 100 years ago, and how during that event they glimpsed a world of technology that was literally going to change the world (and soon). I can sympathize with their overwhelming sense of disorganization, as if the temple floor had just cracked.

    Here I sit looking back, with the advantage of knowing how that upset was settled, but can’t help viewing the future with that same sense of dismay while I consider the tools technology is creating for us. Tools that are being developed out of the Internet and Human Genome Project, such as Twitter, Facebook, Stem Cells, and dozens of others, which each use the tremendous out pour of information that we are right now generating.
    At base, as you say, Twitter is a fancy new news generator that puts local media (and even the CIA in the case of India) to shame. Yet, Twitter, is also powerful tool that accesses and develops our increasingly networked existence. Every day new and better tools are being developed to exploit and develop that connection with each tool accomplishing some new task.

    Where does it take us? Hell if I know. But right now, it seems as if each of these tools rely on individuals as information gathers, assessors, and discriminators (akin to transistors in the first microprocessors). Individuals who act as a component of a larger undefined information system, act as a component without need to understand the nature or function of the system as a whole, as you note that no twitterer (myself included) really seems to understand what it does.

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