Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stop the Snark!

Is Twitter turning us into a bunch of whiners?

I attend a fair number of conferences where I find Twitter to be a great tool for taking notes. I've stopped tweeting during most sessions to focus on listening and absorbing the content more deeply, because I know that many other people will be taking notes and someone is bound to tweet what I would have anyway.

But I'm starting to notice a trend that is bothering me--Twitter is becoming a cynical, snarky place at conferences. Unhappy that the panel isn't meeting your expectations? Bored? Then tweet to the world how bored and smart you are by cleverly insulting the invited guests!

If you were to look at a sample of the tweets from an interview with Twitter's Evan Williams at SXSW, for example, you'd think the event was an unmitigated disaster. The backchannel was FULL of snarky comments like:

  • Phillyberg @ev checked his watch 45 mins into #mondaykeynote. trust me, we were all checking too.

  • mikestopforth selling the rights to my screenplay "Sloppy Moderator and the Revenge of the Back Channel", aka "#Mondaykeynote"

  • @zuno: Should have kept the #mondaykeynote to 140 characters

  • @RT mikeminer: Every time the moderator says "let me talk for a minute about. . ." a baby angel dies in heaven.
The Truth? You Can't Handle The Truth.

But looking at the entire session, you'd be surprised to discover that MOST of the people actually liked the topic and took away some good nuggets. I'm in that camp--I found Evan to be thoughtful and articulate and I learned something. It wasn't GREAT, but it wasn't horrible either.

The problem, of course, is perception and how quickly a negative perception travels across the internet and how difficult it is to correct something that is false. You get articles like this one that paint a very distorted picture of the actual event.

I was there. Most of the audience did NOT 'rip' into the keynote. In conversations I had in the halls, people were ambivalent, but I didn't hear anyone 'rip' into the event. Maybe there is a difference between what people say out loud versus what the voices in their head say, I don't know. And of course, I didn't talk with everyone who saw the keynote either.

I'm a fan of freedom of expression. And if folks are unhappy with a panel or a presentation, Twitter is a great way to give instant feedback that is valuable.

Has Twitter Jumped the Snark?

It seems that snark is becoming our preferred means of expressing ourselves and it feels rude, disrespectful and contributes to a general decline in our civility.

In my opinion, snark distorts the actual event in the guise of 'reporting' and is just plain rude. It's the equivalent of someone giving a negative review about a movie that you are enjoying WHILE the movie is still playing.

Here's a new radical notion: Every thought does not have to be shared in public.

The Twitter crowd is becoming the digerati equivalent of an infant crying in public--sure, the baby is unhappy and is expressing itself, but does everyone else really need to listen to the baby cry because it is hungry, tired, needs to be burped or just wants attention?

Towards A Kinder Gentler Twitter

I know it's a really old-fashioned notion, but my mom used to tell me "if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." I think that's still good advice.

We all have the option to simply tweet "not finding this session useful" and leave. Doing so contributes to the public record of the event and displays your personal expression without putting anyone down personally. It contributes to a civil discourse where one freely expresses their opinion without putting any lasting negativity into the conversation.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that we're becoming snarkier? Is this a good thing?

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Starwind Evensong said...

I do believe snarkiness is becoming more commonplace in our society. It's much like bad news... negativity seems to sell.

Seems your mom and my dad were raised similarly.

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

A Yoga instructor once told me that anytime I have a negative thought about a person I should immediately think of three positive things about them.

Since that class four years ago, I may have forgotten how to do a proper downward facing dog, but I remember and practice this recommendation daily.

The takeaway from this is that there is always more positive to reflect upon than negative, and we all have much to gain from taking that type of world view.

Great blog Mark!