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About Tweeting December 6, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software platforms, Technology and Culture.
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I’ve done a presentation generically entitled “Talking to People: The Forgotten Software Tool.”  The time I gave it at DevOps Days Berlin 2016 was probably the closest I’ve ever come to getting a standing ovation.  The thesis of the talk, based in part on MIT’s Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation is that we as a society are increasingly preferring digital means of communications to physical ones.  For generations raised with smartphones, tablets, and (legacy) computers, face to face communications can be a struggle.

I am not a digital native in broadcasting my thoughts and activities to the rest of the world.  I have held jobs where tweeting, for example, was a job requirement in order to help build the company brand or get more page views.  I did so, even willingly, but my efforts were not nearly as voluminous as some of my colleagues.

I have to remember to tweet, or blog.  While I tend to be an introverted person throughout my life, decades ago I reluctantly recognized the need to reach out to others.  At the time, all of that was face to face, because digital connections didn’t exist.

Now there are so many ways to communicate without looking at someone.  I’ve had a number of video calls lately using Zoom, often with people who are using dual monitors.  They have the video showing on the large screen to one side, and look at that screen, and seemingly away from me.  It was funny, once I realized what was happening.

By itself, that’s not a bad thing, and in fact those with dual screens may not even realize they’re not really looking at you.  But it does damage the trust you try to build up by looking someone in the eye, and reading their nonverbal communications, is degraded even further with many digital forms of communications.

And tweeting is one of them.  And because we don’t know many (if at all) of the people who are reading our tweets, and don’t have to look them in the eye, we don’t feel obliged to be respectful (like many of Elon Musk’s more bizarre tweets).  That’s true even for those of us whose tweets are almost entirely professional.

Speech is not free.  We pay for it with everything we say.  Our reputations, the trust other people have in us, our ability to communicate effectively, and even to the point of lawsuits, are dependent upon not using Twitter as an attack platform.

Okay, here’s my solution.  Twitter needs to be banned from normal discourse.  In fact, Twitter is without normal discourse.  It should be entirely a professional platform.  I realize that this isn’t going to happen, but Twitter is too dangerous to our means of communication to simply dismiss.

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