This is a really interesting article by Mark Bauerlein, Professor of English at Emory University. For those who don’t know what Twitter is, you might be a little lost.
Essentially, Twitter is a real time internet tool that allows users to let their “followers” (or people who subscribe to their Twitter profile) what they’re doing. This is also called “updating a status” or “tweeting.” Many use it just to keep connected with friends; however, writers, politicians, and the like are using it to let followers know up-to-date news, when blogs have been updated, etc. So yes, this is the context for the following article.
President Obama’s address this week turned out one of the biggest viewing audiences ever for a chief executive’s visit to the chamber. But while people at home were admiring Obama’s delivery and accepting or rejecting his statements, some in the seats in front of him were doing something else.
Here’s the story by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. Several members of the House and Senate came to the occasion equipped with real time digital tools, and before and during the speech, they sent out “content,” what they saw and heard and judged. Or, as Milbank puts it, “They whipped out their BlackBerrys and began sending text messages like high school kids bored in math class.”
Some of their broadcasts:
“‘One doesn’t want to sound snarky, but it is nice not to see Cheney up there,’ Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) announced as Obama entered the chamber.‘I did big wooohoo for Justice Ginsberg,’ Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) broadcast, misspelling the name of the ailing Supreme Court justice. McCaskill could be seen applauding with BlackBerry in one hand.
‘Capt Sully is here — awesome!’ announced Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), spotting the US Airways pilot in the gallery.
Then there was Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), in whose name this text message was sent at about the time the president spoke of the need to pull the country together: ‘Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren’t going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.’ A few minutes later, another message came through: ‘Disregard that last Tweet from a staffer.’”
Culberson provided a live streaming video, and before the event approached some Capital Police and asked them to name themselves. Others gave minute remarks about where they were sitting and who sat nearby. More dispatches: “We must stand our ground as conservatives”; “Not many applause lines. Some in the audience not sure how to react”; “Americans are not quitters — Amen — what a great story.”
If this is the mindset of our representatives, we need an administered dose of Mark Twain, who said: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
And: “Congressman is the trivialist distinction for a full grown man.”
And: “All Congresses and Parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity.”
Indeed, a representative with a live-action tool in hand may be the clearest expression of a vital principle of communication: The faster people can record their experience, the stupider it gets. We hear a lot about infantilization, but this is “adolescentilization,” and it reaches all the way to the top. With everyone so equipped, we’ll never see another Webster, Clay, Taft, LBJ, Moynihan . . .