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The tweet life

Northeastern assistant communication-studies professor Vincent Rocchio is an expert in media, culture and society who analyzes the effects of Twitter and other social-networking sites on communications and information.
Here, he shares a few of his insights into the terse new world of tweeting.

How is Twitter affecting the way we communicate?
It reinforces the range of digital technology, which is a fundamental, indispensable mode of communication. In isolation, Twitter is not such a powerful cultural phenomenon. But, along with IM, email and the cell phone, it’s part of an entire social world where being connected is everything.

Does it affect the way journalists report the news?
The corporate, conglomerate nature of media has far, far more impact on the way journalists report news than does Twitter—more impact than even digital technology, for that matter. If anything, Twitter and the rest of digital technology have the potential to challenge news reporting and make it better.

Digital technologies let those interested in a story network their own expertise, and challenge and correct the work of mainstream journalists.

What has led to the popularity of Twitter and other social-networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn?
The digital culture tries to fill a void with virtual communities. We are so starved for authentic community, for being part of a larger purpose, that we gladly accept being “connected” as a substitute.

Is all this information access causing overload?
No, the term “overload” is a red herring. The actual problem is the way all this technology leads people to work more and more, even when they are at leisure.

What are the pros and cons of compressed communication?
The downside of compressed communication is that it “digitizes” language and culture. We are not encouraged to think about social realities in complex and detailed ways. Instead, we categorize them according to smaller and more rigid parameters.

For example?
If you compare tweets to works of poetry, the digitization of language becomes clear.
The upside of compressed communication is that it impels us to analyze discourse for its essential meaning, its core concepts.

At a recent MIT conference on the digital culture, you simultaneously spoke about digital media and harnessed the power of Twitter.
I was delivering a paper on pedagogy in digital culture. At the same time, the conference moderator was following behind me and sending tweets—point by point—to people who could not attend.

Are you on Twitter?
I am not. I see more downside to Twitter than positives. My not using it is a personal resistance to language compression. Long live full sentences!

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