On The Man I Love To Hate And Twitter
by Jamison Koehler on October 24, 2010
I admit it: I am a closet reader of Scott Greenfield’s Simple Justice.
A couple of months or so ago, I interpreted a couple of things Greenfield posted both here and on his own blog as unfairly critical of me and bloggers like me, and fired off a poison pen email to Greenfield. Since then, we have been on the outs. I know from things he has posted elsewhere that he considers me a thin-skinned, self-promotional, disingenuous dimwit with no integrity and no experience who has no business putting his views out into the blawgosphere.
He is wrong about the integrity part.
During my initial fit of anger, I swore off reading Simple Justice entirely. Then I would run across a reference to something Greenfield had written elsewhere and sneak over to the site to see what had been said. Once a week became over other day and every other day turned into every day such that I am now back into my old routine of checking the site every morning to see what Greenfield has written and to find out how other people are responding.
Whatever I might think of Greenfield personally and no matter how hard it is for me to admit this, Greenfield still is the best read in the criminal law blogosphere. Why should I care that he doesn’t like or respect me? You can strongly disagree with what he is saying or how he deals with the commenters who venture onto his blog, but there is no denying the fact that he gets you thinking. I finally realized that, by refusing to read him or to use his posts as a launching pad for entries on this blog, I was only punishing myself. I’ll just have to listen harder for that sound of one hand clapping.
What prompted all of the above is an entry Greenfield did yesterday morning, entitled “No Signs of Intelligent Life on Twitter,” in which Greenfield is again at his best. I had been thinking about both of the topics he writes about in the entry – Twitter and the so-called “social media gurus.” How could I talk about either without at least acknowledging what Greenfield has already written?
In an expansive and almost wistful entry, Greenfield ruminates about the shortcomings of Twitter. He writes about the false sense of intimacy it creates between disembodied strangers “who know nothing more about each other than their twitter bio and twits reveal”: “It’s all reminiscent of old friends superficially chatting, but without the old friends part and without the underlying basis for connection. It’s all the superficiality with none of the substance of real friendship.” When he bemoans the people who “twit all night long, until they finally sign off from exhaustion,” I can’t help thinking of the multiple marriages that were broken up years ago when chatrooms became the rage on AOL.
Twitter does have some redeeming qualities. There are, for example, a number of people I follow who can be extremely witty. I think in particular of my former colleague at the public defender’s office in Philadelphia with a political slant I agree with, whose comments I can retweet based on the mistaken assumption that his leanings won’t be ascribed to me. I also love the person posing as Osama Bin Ladin who has posted my all-time favorite Tweet to date: “Just noticed that Twitter keeps prompting me to ‘Add a location to your tweets.’ Not falling for that one.” That alone was worth the price of admission.
Twitter also serves as a major source of links to articles and other things I use on this site. Yesterday, for example, I used something Rick Horowitz posted on Twitter as the basis for a blog entry. How else could I have found out about a public defender in San Joaquin County threatening the prosecutor without having surfed the net myself? Finally, I use Twitter both to find out when other bloggers have posted a new entry and to link to new entries of my own.
In this sense, Rick Horowitz commenting on Simple Justice is probably right: The trick for him, he wrote, is making sure he doesn’t expect more from Twitter than it can possibly deliver.
But I have to agree with Greenfield on the generally superficial and unsatisfying nature of the medium. As Greenfield describes it, “it seems as if this opportunistic crowd twits for no other reason than to announce approval and be embraced by others. No one, ever, twits anything but absolute approval. Twit that you woke up this morning and got out of bed without falling, and a dozen people will retwit it, adding their congratulations for the successful launch.”
Greenfield is also correct in bemoaning Twitter’s effect on the vitality of the blawgosphere. “We used to have rousing discussions on the blawgs,” Greenfield writes. “They rarely happen anymore.” The energy that used to go into the writing of a “cogent blawg comment” is now dissipated through a medium requiring nothing more than the firing off of an unformed thought in 140 characters or less: “Engaging in thoughtful discussion requires thinking. Twitting requires nothing.”
That Twitter is siphoning off energy formerly devoted to blogs is in fact suggested by the number of comments Greenfield received in response to the entry: As of this writing, he has received a grand total of two comments to what is certainly an insightful and thought-provoking entry. Whether this is due to the fact that Greenfield posted the entry on a Saturday when many people are away from their computers or whether people were in fact too preoccupied with Twitter and other forms of social media to notice the entry and respond, Greenfield seems uncharacteristically resigned to this trend: “It is not as though I expect anyone to give much thought to the nature of what they twit, or how it may divert their energies from more difficult, maybe even thought-provoking pursuits.”