Why Twitter spoils my reading pleasure

As I become more active on Twitter, I notice a number of things happening, and not all are good things.

To start with, it strikes me that armchair pundits are overrepresented. These are people (sometimes quite important ones) who comment on political situations and give their opinions- which to their credit are often well-informed. But as representative as their views may be of general sentiment, I wonder if they are also manipulative of that same general sentiment.

This is not a bad thing of course. Responsible people with experience and insight should have a hand in moulding public thought, else it will be left up to narrow minded rabble rousers alone to steer the course.

No, I have no beef with the pundits, and follow a few of them myself. India has a lot of them- brilliant and articulate, they open up new avenues of thought for me. I find myself wondering why Singapore does not have these sorts of people. A lot of it has to do with freedom of speech.

In his book, “The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone”, Shashi Tharoor writes that the Indian press is “free, lively, irreverent, disdainful of sacred cows. India is the only country in the English-speaking world where the print media is expanding rather than contracting, while the country supports the world’s largest number of all-news TV channels.”

It would be nice if we had this sort of situation here in Singapore, but of course we are two different countries set in different contexts, facing vastly different challenges. That’s not the point.

Maybe there is another reason why we don’t see so many armchair pundits in Singapore. Maybe the people who care are too busy doing what they believe should be done to tweet about it. It’s such a small country, maybe we don’t have enough responsible people to form two groups- those who do and those who tweet. And so they just do.

After all, it’s easy to ask tough questions in 140 characters. If you have enough air time on TV or print space in a newspaper, you can have thousands of followers on Twitter lauding you for asking the tough questions. But it takes more than 140 characters to provide the answers, and most online citizens don’t have the patience to go into those.

I want a more free press in Singapore, I want political commentary to go beyond amusing songs on the Mr Brown show. But I think I’d rather have more of the active citizens than the celebrity pundits.

But what really gets my goat about Twitter is that it threatens to spoil my reading pleasure. I am experiencing increasing levels of meta-tweet awareness. Here is how it goes as I read:

“Ooh maybe this phrase would be good to tweet. Hang on, as I read there are more good phrases. Maybe I should tweet about the plethora of good phrases in this book. Or maybe tweet about how I’m thinking about tweeting while reading. Or about how Twitter is spoiling my reading pleasure. Sod it! I’ll blog about it, listing all the good phrases that are distracting me. THEN I’ll tweet about the blog post. Phew glad that decision is out of the way. Now to de-link from Twitter and get on with my reading. Hmmm… Good phrase. Tweet-worthy? Argh!”

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