#Twitterquette much?

Ahh, Twitter. Love it, hate it, it cannot be ignored, just ask Floyd Shivambu. It was instrumental in Iran’s Green Revolution, according to western media. It wasn’t instrumental in the Green Revolution, according to Malcolm Gladwell. Whatever your views on its relevancy, its here to stay, and usage seems to be increasing in South Africa. I have however become acutely aware of reactions when I tweet in certain environments, and have to ask: just when and where it is appropriate to tweet, and when is it a faux pas?

A Google search on “#twitterquette” yielded 2 350 results. According to the Urban Dictionary definition of twitterquette, “Twitter is not a social network! Its micro-blogging!” I can agree with that.

Instead of shouting “Amen”, I whipped out my cellphone with every intention to tweet. But before I hit the Twitter bookmark, I stopped myself. No battery power? No signal? Nope. Just the words “what am I doing tweeting in church?” looming large in my mind.

I retweet posts from events and people that interest me, and I’ll post news that I find exciting or important. I am no Twitter addict, yet I find that my tweeting has increased recently, and I find myself curious about the evolving etiquette of tweeting. With the proliferation of cellphones in the past decade it was deemed impolite to sms or speak on one’s phone during a meeting, as it’s considered distracting and disrespectful. Does tweeting during an event or meeting fall into the same category?

Case in point: I recently attended an event where a Minister responded to a question related to human rights, homosexuality and African governments. The response, although graceful, was a side-step on the issue. My friend and I immediately whipped out our phones, and posted this bit of news and our opinions of it on Twitter and Facebook. While tweeting though, I could sense the annoyance of the people sitting next me.

Later during the week, I retweeted posts from the #gathering, as I couldn’t attend [read: hangs head in shame]. I enjoyed the stream of tweets I was receiving; it felt as if I had attended the event. I can only infer from the amount of tweets and the trending levels that no one batted an eyelash at tweeters during the event.

On the weekend, I attended a religious service (don’t ask), and to my amazement the guest speaker carefully chastised a prominent evangelist’s hideous remarks on Haiti. To me, this was evidence that some religious people are also compassionate – which is important to me personally. Instead of shouting “Amen”, I whipped out my cellphone with every intention to tweet. But before I hit the Twitter bookmark, I stopped myself. No battery power? No signal? Nope. Just the words “what am I doing tweeting in church?” looming large in my mind.

But should one even be concerned about #Twitterquette? As humanity has evolved through millennia, the media for sending and receiving messages has evolved. With each message medium our cultural values and behaviours have shifted.  We progressed from oral storytelling, to painting on cave walls, to writing on stone tablets and papyrus scrolls, to tapestries and manuscripts and the printing press. Fast forward to the 21st century and electronic media is becoming the medium of choice. Various skills rose and declined: memory was essential for oral storytelling, the ability to write became valued with the onset of scrolls and the printing press, and now Internet access and the ability to be first with the news are essential commodities in the 21st century. The greater the popularity of a song, the more prominent the singer became. The increased printed copies of a book indicated its popularity. In this vein, tweeting and trending should be considered the equivalent of applause and positive affirmation. I can only surmise that at some point, taking notes or even photographs at an event must have been considered a distraction. We adapt and grow accustomed to new developments, hopefully we will adapt and grow accustomed to seeing everyone tweet their views on an event as it unfolds, and not bat an eyelash.

I don’t believe that there’s a simple answer. Perhaps it will forever remain contextual and one must rely on one’s discretion. Perhaps I suffer from religious guilt or I pander to social decorum too much.

Perhaps I should sit in the back row at public events from now on….

  • Amy

    My list of Do Nots:

    Don’t put #hashtags in front of #random words as if they have some #specific #meaning;
    Don’t follow me because you want me to follow you;
    Don’t flood my timeline with foursquare updates;
    Don’t use it as a whoring medium (ie. don’t post a link to your blog which then links to some funny picture. Just post a direct link to the picture!)

    Anyways, I think the general rules of etiquette governing cellphone use can be applied to twitter-use. Using your phone while a sermon is going on is rude, so don’t use it to tweet about the snapping bibles. Using your smart phone at a tech conference is ok, so using it to tweet updates is ok too. etc.