I opened a Twitter account earlier this year. It’s a personal account and a relatively simple affair. Primarily, I follow news on Russia and on local restaurants. One news feed nourishes my brain, the other fills my stomach (and empties my wallet). I also subscribe to an unnatural amount of news about airplanes, the by-product of a childhood obsession with aviation.
“Big deal,” you say. “So he’s discovered Twitter.” And you’re right. I am late to the global gabfest. Or, perhaps, just in time.
I am still learning how to modulate the information Twitter shoots at me like buckshot from a musket. Some of it I want to mute, some I want to amplify. I am still a bit lost in the etiquette of it all. Do all of these people talking at each other really not know each other? My mother would have found this rude, ill-judged, or both.
More than anything else, I am adjusting to how news via Twitter comes in torrents. As soon as something happens somewhere, Twitter swells to its banks. The information overload has the exaggerating and unnerving effect of an echo chamber.
Twitter makes me apprehensive. To hear it from Twitter, Russia is convulsed by change. New laws are being passed with sweeping social, political and economic consequence. Twitter makes the scene radiating from Moscow feel tense, in anticipation of something. August tends to be the month for surprises in Russia. If something is going to happen, we won’t have long to wait.
News from Russia led me south to Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being compared to Russian President Vladimir Putin. So I turned on the Twitter tap for Turkey, and a fresh torrent came – riot, response, recoil, reload. Thousands of voices rushed at me, some shouting, some imploring, all of them urgent.
It was getting to be too much, so I switched over to restaurant and airplane news. Steak restaurants are trending these days. Central London is now choked with them. But did you know that beef consumption in Argentina is falling dramatically enough to prompt a national identity crisis? I learn something new on Twitter every day. This is a huge plus. Airplane enthusiasts already know they will soon have not one, but two new wide-body models to fly on in the near future. They are partially made of plastic, which is fitting, because the batteries are also posing a problem.
Back in the rest of the world, my elevated level of apprehension makes me think about risk. Russia continues its hormonal and periodically volatile brand of statecraft. No change there. But Turkey gave me pause – would the same protests in other major cities have provoked the same reaction? All of the world’s great metropolises boil over now and then. Not all of them are cooled by water cannon and tear gas. That got my attention.
Do I feel the world is more dangerous solely because I now get more information about it? Was I safer – or did I feel safer – before I had a Twitter account? Turn that around: would I feel safer if I de-registered from Twitter?
Too late. Or, perhaps, just in time. Twitter feels fresh, it feels urgent. It feels very real. I like that, but it is completely unpasteurised, utterly without filtration and as such, a little unhealthy. I crave context and analysis. I want the ability to make sense out of this all, to be able to make decisions about what is important and what is background noise.
This is high-calorie work. Been to any good restaurants lately?