In defense of 140 characters: Why Twitter remains relevant

I was recently sitting with a potential freelance writing client and we were discussing an upcoming social media campaign that his company was about to embark on. This man was quite a bit older than me and was used to doing business the old-fashioned way. The old-fashioned, Italian way. Thankfully, he likes me.

We were discussing the various social media outlets, both the tried-and-true and the up-and-comers, when we got to Twitter.

He said, “You know what? I get all of the other ones. I mean, I don’t use them, but I understand them. But it seems to me that Twitter is just a place for celebrities to market their latest project and for regular people to share with the world what they had for breakfast this morning.”

I couldn’t disagree with him, except that what he was describing was Twitter circa 2008. Twitter has since evolved, as tech products often do, when the users start coming up with fresh and inventive uses for them.

Twitter was first envisioned as a site for “micro-blogging”, used by the people who didn’t have enough to say for a whole blog post. Some people still use it in this fashion. But, naturally, people have learned to be more creative with it.

Some people find that the inherent 140-character limit forces them to think outside the box. Recently, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan released an entire short story via the New Yorker’s Twitter feed, 140 characters at a time. This wasn’t surprising for a woman who famously printed a deck of PowerPoint slides as a chapter in one of her books.

She said she actually used storyboards to plot out each tweet of the story, which forced her to really concentrate on the pacing. Unfortunately, most people found the approach distracting and were more than happy to wait for all of the tweets to be accumulated into one morsel in a later issue of the magazine (which was probably the grand plan after all).

There are obviously celebrities out there that only use Twitter for shameless self-promotion. I quickly unfollow them (if I got trapped into following them in the first place). The best kinds of celebrities on Twitter are the ones that use it as a tool to interact with the people. Some will tweet that they are waiting for a flight and will be answering random questions for 45 minutes. Others tweet pictures of behind-the-scenes action at sporting events or movie sets. Politicians tend to send dirty pictures of themselves and their little Member of Congress. Ah, just as the Framers envisioned…

My favorites, however, use Twitter as a tool to antagonize a gullible public. Ricky Gervais and Piers Morgan are masters at this.

Ricky, a known atheist, will debate absolutely anyone on religion via Twitter. Some of the rude jokes I’ve told my priest have come directly from Ricky (with attribution, of course). You might not be a fan of his comedy, but I challenge you to come away from one of these debates without a respect for the man’s intellect.

Piers, when he’s bored, will re-tweet someone’s negativity about him and correct their grammar or spelling. This gets other Debbie Downers to come out of the woodwork, calling him a grammar Nazi and bully. Their messages tend to have errors in them as well, so he goes ahead and keeps correcting until he’s got something better to do. As an English teacher, I would often use his feed as an illustration of why it’s important to learn the rules of our language.

Twitter’s most valuable use, in my eyes, is as a news-gathering tool. Journalists and others will often tweet out events as they are unfolding. By the time Brian Williams comes on, I treat his entire newscast like the AT&T commercials: “That was so 30 seconds ago.”

Sometimes it’s even people you don’t expect who provide the most prescient information.

As the Supreme Court decision on the health care law was coming down, it seemed everyone was confused on what the decision actually said. CNN and Fox News staffers famously got it wrong. My Twitter feed was going crazy with “Upheld/Struck Down/Huh?” tweets from noted journalists like Anderson Cooper, the New York Times, and Morgan. The first person to get the decision correct on my feed was the noted legal scholar and political pundit… Warren Sapp. Number 99 in your programs. Number one, apparently, in his law-school class.

Let’s just say Warren doesn’t enjoy the most sterling reputation around my hometown of Tampa. But, to me, he rehabilitated it with one single tweet.

To me, that’s what Twitter is for. It is the purest form of the Internet, the one that comes closest to its potential. It is a place where everyone is equal and those equal parties can come together to discuss everything or nothing. You don’t have to be friends. You don’t have to be business associates. You don’t even have to like the same stuff. All you need is an opinion and the ability to form that opinion into a sentence. If you lack that ability, stay away from Piers.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: