Tom Ewing, who writes the consistently very good Pitchfork column, Poptimist, has just posted a new piece in which he responds to an April 10 installment of William Bowers’ Puritan Blister column, which is also published by Pitchfork. Bowers’ original column, titled “Twisten to Yr Heart,” is a 3,000 word anti-Twitter rant. Ewing’s response comes in the form of 84 separate tweets.
Bowers is Pitchfork's resident Luddite, a distinction he seems quite proud of, despite assuring us he's not, and that it's become merely a "personality trait" at this point, less of a statement. He's also one of the only writers left at the site who's still guilty of churning out the kind of bloated prose Pitchfork has always been associated with. "Twisten to Yr Heart" alone contains seven different titled sections, a short play featuring Jimmy Fallon and Abraham Lincoln and a presumably real-life interview with the creators of Twisten, a new service that keeps track of what music is being tweeted about. Once you dig through all that, his arguments are basically the same as all the other arguments against things like Twitter. It's cheapening discourse. It creates in people the delusion that all their thoughts are worth sharing. And, ultimately—this is the big one, of course—it's going to put critics out of work.
Cut to Ewing's column, in which he comes to Twitter's defense and makes the only point I believe is worth making about any of this: Twitter is "neutral" — that is, it's neither inherently good nor inherently bad, and so it becomes exactly as good or bad, or as stupid or smart, or as useless or useful as the person using it. A particularly spot-on passage:
Bowers, like most smart commentators, realizes Twitter is neutral but focuses on what he sees as its negative effects. Like idiocy.
A dip into the "public tweetstream"— the firehosed thoughts of 10 million minds— is indeed a one-way ticket to Moronopolis.
Most users don't take that option— one of the great things about Twitter is how your filters evolve with your usage of the service.
If what you see is idiocy, it's because you've elected to follow idiots. Simple as that.
Ewing's chosen format is a gimmick, obviously, but it also proves a point he hints at elsewhere in the piece: that there is an awful lot to be said for the extent to which Twitter forces you to choose your words carefully, to think about the most concise way you could possibly get your point across. There were lessons to be learned from the first wave of blogs and websites like Pitchfork, when the argument against the internet was that it encouraged unrefined, indulgent writing that desperately needed editing. Twitter proves that in a lot of ways, those lessons have been learned. Admittedly, it seems counter-intuitive in a world where we complain that magazines everywhere are being reduced to one short, snippy front-of-book item after another in an attempt to increase sales by preying on (or causing) people's ever-shortening attention spans, but the web had its own very different set of problems to address. It's not perfect yet, but the people who are willing to accept the possibility that not every single facet of how they used to live and work is necessarily worth preserving, are getting there.