Kernels of Nonsense: The Perils of the Twitter Grapevine

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense has been a bimonthly discussion feature on my blog for nearly two years now, but for the last few months, I’ve been shirking my duties. But instead of stressing about how I’ve only been able to write one discussion post a month instead of my usual two, I’m going to go ahead and simply call this a discussion feature. That way I won’t continue to kid myself when it comes to producing a certain amount of discussion posts in a month. Now that that is out of the way, let’s get started…

If you are a part of Twitter, you probably haven’t missed the numerous issues that have arisen within the book blogging community over the past month or so. I’ve only been on Twitter for about a year and although I love it (it’s a great way to find other bloggers and engage in bookish discussions outside of the comment portion of our blogs), I’ve also noticed it’s a place where disagreements often happen.

For the sake of this post, I will not be going into too many specifics (there will be no naming of names) as this post is less about pointing fingers and more about how limited a platform like Twitter is when discussing certain issues.

Early last month after BEA took place in Chicago, a few people on Twitter expressed their dismay at seeing ARCs from the event on sale online. As most of us bloggers know (I’m hoping all), this is a huge no-no. Selling ARCs is not okay, but even though it blatantly says not to on these copies, people still sell them. This started a discussion about bloggers needing to be more professional and whether or not it was best if they didn’t attend events like BEA at all. Many bloggers found this offensive and this whole thing ensued where bloggers felt the need to defend the role of book blogging within the publishing world.

We can go into the details of it and argue one way or another, but I really want to discuss how these disagreements suffer because they take place on places like Twitter. It seems to me that while I think social platforms, Twitter in particular, make great places to discuss issues like this within the community, it’s really limiting when it comes to clear communication.

With only 140 characters available per tweet, it’s often difficult to put everything you want to say in a single tweet (or even a series of tweets, as it’s very easy to start flooding your followers’ timelines). I’m often in awe of those who can get their point across so easily on Twitter because for me, I always end up typing up a tweet and then having to edit it so it fits within the character limit. Apparently, I haven’t fully adapted to this new form of communication. This is made even harder when it’s something that’s really important to you. I find that I have a ton of things to say on certain subjects and I either do not have enough time to post it on Twitter (I’m usually checking it on my phone while I’m on the go) or I feel that it’s a better topic for a discussion post than a 140 character tweet.

It’s wonderful that so many people within the book community are willing to engage with one another on topics they might not agree on, but I always feel that these discussions are incomplete because of the platform they take place on. This leads to another issue. Miscommunication. At the same time people were talking about BEA ARCs going on sale, there was another issue brought up about bloggers taking more than one copy of a book. I’m not going to argue one way or another (though I do have a definitive view on the subject) but as the discussion unfolded, one of the bloggers in question said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that they had asked to take more than one copy for giveaways, a request which was granted.

I’m not sure if this would persuade those who don’t think bloggers should take more than one copy, but it occurred to me at the time that there is no way that Twitter interactions are free from miscommunication. Have you ever sent a sarcastic text only to find that it completely missed the mark with a friend? So much of the English language relies on tone and tone is not something you can always communicate digitally. Also, when it comes to communicating with others online, you really never know how your words might sound in the other person’s head. A criticism may seem harsher to their ears when you were only trying to point out an inconsistency in something. People in general get pretty defensive, pretty quickly and if there is a breakdown in communication, a simple disagreement can escalate rather quickly.

For me, another concern I have is how fast these discussions (and mainly arguments) spread on Twitter. I often see a hashtag emerge or catch a tweet or two from someone I follow, but I’m unable to really follow the discussion because they materialize and expand so quickly that unless I’m present on Twitter the moment something happens, I miss out on a lot. Sometimes, I just close the app on my phone because I know there’s no way I can get a full, complete picture of what’s been happening. This is really limiting to those of us who might want to engage in a debate, but who have no idea where to start when it’s difficult to trace Twitter discussions back to their origin.

I think Twitter is a wonderful place to hold important discussions. You get a wide variety of perspectives, as it allows everyone a chance to share their opinion. There are some issues that are brought up on Twitter that I believe everyone needs to consider and I love when bloggers continue the discussion by exploring them more in depth on their blogs. But Twitter is still an extremely limited way to communicate and has plenty of pitfalls that make it difficult to call it a truly productive place to tackle difficult and complex issues.

How do you feel about Twitter discussions? Are you comfortable discussing important issues over tweets or do you find the 140 characters limit frustrating? Do you ever find it difficult to follow a Twitter discussion? What are some of the advantages or disadvantages of discussing issues on Twitter? Let’s discuss in the comments!