This week saw some interesting criticisms of Twitter, which helped reinforce some of my own biases against bothering with it. Science blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum weighed in on her oath to never use Twitter:

Welcome to generation ADD….Privacy is so last millenium.
Well call me old fashioned, but I draw the line at Twitter. Yes folks, the rumors are true. Physioprof and I have made a pact. We will never ever Twitter. It’s time to slow things down a notch. We want to enjoy a few moments disconnected. No electricity required, batteries not included.

Elsewhere, Clay Shirky has an introspective piece about the fallout from Amazon’s recent glitch where “adult”material was removed from their ranking systems, which led to widespread furor in the Twittersphere that discrimination was afoot:

Though the #amazonfail event is important for several reasons, I can’t write about it dispassionately, because I was an enthusiastic participant in its use on Sunday. I was wrong, because I believed things that weren’t true…Those are good conversations to have, we need to have them, but they are not conversations that would enrage thousands of people in the space of a few hours and kick off calls for boycotts and worse.”

Twitter is essentially a public Instant Messaging (IM) system, one where your messages can be read by anyone interested, and you can join in the conversation anyone else is having. For me, that’s the main reason I find the concept unappealing–I’ve never been a big fan of IM. I tried to give it a go back in the days of AOL/IM and found it incredibly annoying. Even with a limited group of contacts, the constant chiming from my desktop was so distracting and interruptive that I found it difficult to get anything done. Twitter strikes me as the same thing multiplied by several powers of ten. I screen my calls as well, by the way.

I know, I know, I’m missing out and I’m an old fogey stuck in the past. So be it. We each have our own time constraints and workflows. I do understand the appeal of chatting online with strangers. I used to be a huge user of usenet back in the day, and enjoyed being a part of the community discussing my favorite basketball team or whatever tv show/music I was listening to at the time. But that was back when I was very early in my graduate career, was still working my way into a research project, and had time to kill. As we get older and gain responsibilities, both career and family, time for such things gets smaller and smaller. As I progressed through graduate school and got closer and closer to my degree, my time spent in newsgroups grew smaller and smaller until I abandoned them altogether. And that’s something that worries me about most of these Web 2.0 mediums (media?) for science–that they’re going to be dominated and used mostly by those with the most time on their hands, and subsequently the least interesting things to say. Here’s a good example of someone reaching the tipping point, realizing where blogging stands in his list of priorities and considering letting it go.

Kirshenbaum makes good points about both the banality of much of what’s posted, and the exhibitionism and odd willingness to give up all sense of privacy by many users. I’ve written about boundaries before, they’re important, and you won’t find me going on about my private life or family in this blog. I don’t have a Facebook or Myspace page. It’s really none of your business. The linked Wired article in that previous blog posting should give you a sense of how easy it is to connect geo-tagged information to the real world, and I expect we’ll see some unpleasant incidents in the near future that begin to change attitudes towards being so open.

There’s also a certain laziness that Twitter seems to breed. While one constantly reads about the incredible discipline needed to edit posts to 140 characters, no one seems to mention the massive quantity of those disciplined 140 character messages that are generated. Merlin Mann describes it as “raging id”. I don’t really have the time nor the desire to read an unchecked stream of consciousness from most people. Several of the bloggers whose writing I enjoy are spending more time on Twitter than on their blogs as of late (John Hodgman for one, Neil Gaiman for another). While both are superb writers, neither generates anything I’m interested in reading via Twitter. I do understand why we’re seeing this shift, it’s easier to just spew out a thought off the top of your head than to sit and spend an hour (or hours) fully fleshing out an idea. Which is why I think it’s a lazy medium (I’m not alone in this). Even famous and talented folks just aren’t all that exciting and clever if you’re being hit with a splatter of every single thought they have. If you want my valuable attention, then you need to do a little work Edit it down, keep the good bits, and develop those ideas further. The raw material is just blather, and frankly, I don’t have a lot of time to listen to other people blathering. You’re just not that interesting.

The other noted advantage of Twitter is the “timeliness”. You can find rave after rave about how we learned about the plane landing in the Hudson or the Mumbai crisis from Twitter before the news networks had full reports on what was happening. So what. Unless you had a relative on that plane or staying in that hotel, would it have affected your life if you had to wait a few hours before knowing the story there? Kirshenbaum calls this “Generation ADD” (I prefer “Generation Now”). I guess this rampant voyeurism is the counterbalance to the rampant exhibitionism mentioned above. Shirky’s article points out how this immediacy can lead to sweeping mob movements based on incorrect and incomplete information. Amazon has apparently suffered from a threatened boycott and massive amounts of negative publicity based on false assumptions.

Even those heavily invested in Twitter advise that you shouldn’t try to read everything, that you should take time off. I’ve been told repeatedly that the key to managing information flow in this day and age is the use of powerful filters, perhaps the most powerful being that you don’t have to join in and use every technology simply because it exists. Usenet, in its time, was highly influential and great fun. But no, you’re not suffering now because you didn’t use it. Something else came along and replaced it, and something then replaced that. If you have the time and interest to join in, well, good for you. It’s an investment I can’t make and it’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

I’ll leave you with this funny, but impressively accurate list of Why Twitter is Evil.