This post relates my experiences using the micro-blogging system “twitter”. For once, accessibility issues drift into the background and the educational, emotional, and entertainment aspects of the technology engage me in the social media movement. In summary, an undisciplined person can fritter away mountains of time on molehills of information that pop up in the Twitter landscape created by following choices. However, a person with self-directed interests can find bubbling brooks of content pointers and insights with occasional gold nuggets never otherwise revealed. An alternative title might be “Does Twitter make me fitter? or flitter?”
Please, please, explain twitter
First, what’s the “twitter model” of information flow? Blogs have gained popularity because individuals believe their special interests and expertise attract like-minded readers who can contribute feedback and merge to reach higher goals. Let’s admit that it takes courage to make that first blogging step whether for business survival or personal growth. Twitter concentrates the writing and reading into 140 characters per message, roughly a headline, topic sentence, or link reference. The underlying technology builds on the Publish-Subscribe model that you put your information someplace, others find its location, assess its quality and relevance, then add the location to automated systems, dubbed “clients”, to fetch the latest messages. The Twitter lingo is that you “follow” somebody, others “follow” you, and Twitter central facilitates the broadcast of messages by allowing clients to send and receive messages, including its own website twitter.com. The power of twitter also comes from distributing following-follower lists, enabling, in computational thinking terms, symmetric and “transitive relationships”, where “I follow X ho follows Y who follows Z” and “oh, look, A is following me, looks interesting, so I’ll follow A who also follows B, etc.”.
How does a person, sighted or not, use twitter?
Accessibility issues are minimized to only getting past the account sign-up anti-spam CAPTCHA image or audio at twitter.com. since the main functions of using twitter are inputting 140 or fewer characters and links or buttons to handle following activation, user interfaces are simple, non-visual, and enabled by an API (Application Programming Interface) at Twitter Central.
I use two twitter clients. The Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager Version 2 software provides basic capabilities for sending messages, updating the so-called “tweet roll” of messages from people I follow, as well as checking out my followers and followees by profiles and thei follow contexts. A web interface Accessible Twittter.com applies many principles for making web pages easily usable with a screen reader. Another useful interface, Mobile Twitter offers a spreadsheet look, good for fooling bosses and quick to read.
So, how does one get started in twitter?
After getting my account, Twitter Central showed me some highly followed people, one of whom I knew by name, Slate journalist John Dickerson. Then I thought up people I respected from blogs, podcasts, and books, adding Jon Udell, John Batelle, W. David Stevenson, Danah Boyd, Francine Hardaway, and Denise Howell. That gave me a well-rounded expansion of people whom I respected and could trust to follow worthy thinkers and doers. At some point, I believe centered on Accessible Twitter creator Dennis Lembrée of WebAxe podcast brought me into transitive and cyclic lineages of accessibility gurus. Fortuitously, these folks were organizing a “tweetup at CSUN accessibility conference and I was quickly following a few dozen people I didn’t know who were building a community for sharing their blog writings, insights, complaints, and traveling.
On the other side, now with my own account, I had to figure out what to say, personal and professional, more later on this dilemma.
Why twitter makes me fitter
My take on “social media” is that individuals in society need to both maintain their past affiliated relationships, like co-workers, while expanding their options and facilitating personal growth. This gets very interesting when generations, genders, and interests cross traditional social boundaries. My selection of people to follow has one common criterion: independent thinkers, solo proprietors, those who “own their minds” with any company affiliation in the background. I care not a wit for any organizational tricks or complaints. Messages from such people are often like “well, here’s this great insight, but nobody here to tell, except the cat/dog, a good mid-afternoon tweet treat for myself”. More often I see the straightforward “worth reading to learn X, here’s the link”. For me, as receiver, this adds up to a dozen or so tabs and web pages lined up in my browser, kind of a morning clipping service. Since I’m learning about accessibility and assistive technology, I’m getting a daily reading list and lessons from experts whom I trust to know what’s important.
The cross-generational aspects of twitter are fascinating. In physical life, I attend lifelong learning courses and book clubs where, at age 66, I’m often one of the younger members, so story telling extends back before WW II and parents in the Depression (the previous one). Not surprisingly, one sometimes hears grumbling about “those kids and their toys”, which I also co-exist with at home. On twitter, I’m an elder lurker, used to being the invisible older woman, trying to inject my own decades of experience, expecting little interest — “who cares about email in the 1970s?”.
Also intriguing is the cross-over of geographical and technical interests, e.g. learning about Jon Udell’s “Calendar Curation” project, including nitty-gritty technical things I can still understand, if not perform. I also keep up on electronic publishing, government data,Arizona entrepreneurs, and general technology, almost anything except boring past professional organizations and hard to find local connections.
To cite one of those nuggets of gold, my tweet role is currently filled with reports of the Trends at a European conference on accessibility for the Aging. Just hearing the stream of topics provides the collage of technical and social concerns, while I register mentally those slides I want to peruse for my recurring theme posting on vision loss, including advice for care-givers.
How does twitter make me flitter?
One thing I do get better at with age is managing my energy level. The rules are simple. “Add a follower, measure whether you’re at a limit of time or interest, demote something”. Also recognize “context switching takes energy, so confine contexts to current interest”. In other words, you cannot keep up with everything, so must, always, be trimming back. This gets harder when you must delete yourself as a follower of a person you like but don’t need. Sadly, hey, if I have to keep skipping or reading tweets I dislike or don’t care about, I’m soon going to disregard that person, so better drop this relationship sooner. Snip, see you later.
I’m luckily immune to most pop culture, but occasionally do need a dash of heart tugging or mockery or irritation. Ok, I confess, I couldn’t tell you one thing about American Idol but I’m compelled to keep up with Britain talent Susan Boyle phenomenon. Those judges smirking at her age and looks, telling her they’d laughed at her, gets my feminism and ageism ire going. But seeing somebody have a lifetime high moment, and do a fantastic performance, well, that makes me feel ever so human. Don’t tell me the show is rigged.
Twitter for the Vision Loser
I hope you’ve now seen that Twitter is a great match with needs of this Vision Loser, maybe others.
- With a text-based technology, there are no complex interfaces to master. Indeed Accessible Twitter is designed with the best practices to streamline reading and writing in Twitter.
- The twitter user world, millions of people with varied interests, offer a mixed blend of personal, professional, and avocational content. Find the people you like, the people they like, and you can be on the fringes of ongoing conversations to deepen and broaden your interests. Yes, this is like over-hearing art experts discussing a portrait in a gallery, but what’s wrong with that?
Most charitable organizations are now on twitter, e.g. Red Cross, Lions Club, NFB, etc. Vision-related advocacy cropped in the
Amazon Kindle publisher guild petitions and protest. VisionAware and Fred’s Head from APH offer a steady diet of news about vision related topics and assistive technology. And this VisionLoser formed her own self-study of the accessibility field from trickle down tweets.
- Step out yourself by replying to tweets when you know something relevant. That’s one way to gain followers and enter the community. And start your own follower-ship by invitation and productive posting.
Pay no attention to the million-follower celebrity races unless you dig playing their games. You can find your own playground and make your own acquaintances. And, ugly words like “friend
“, as in somebody’s name added to a list, is cultural inanity. However, real relationships do build over time by reading blog or twitter thoughts.
But oh, that very first tweet, like any “first”, can be scary. The prompt is “What are you doing?” which can be translated into now, right this moment? today’s big challenges? for the rest of my life? You can start out personal or think for 2 days, but probably nobody cares either way. In a month or so, you develop your own rhythm and style of posting. That’s where personal growth comes in, as you discover what matters enough to post or withhold, how to condense a though into 140 characters, and integrate twitter information flows into your reading and learning. Twitter is seductive, like writing a journal, and evaluating your goals and progress.
- Suppose you succumb to “twitter fritter” and waste scads of time with little return? We all have that problem and need to find our own self-control mechanisms. For me, this is an internalalization of battery drain with intellectual and emotional energy signaling the value of certain communications. Another problem is privacy concern, since you’re giving away your whereabouts and daily routine, but that’s part of what we have given up for a technological society, or formerly living in a small village.
- Here are a few general readings: