Skinny Thoughts

I love Twitter, unabashedly. I check it when I wake up and right as I’m going to bed. I endlessly refresh my timeline throughout the day, on my phone and my laptop (and sometimes both at once, I admit). Some days it even feels like I think in 140 character chunks.

My timeline is a mix of all kinds of people, from close friends to casual acquaintances, journalists to news outlets, corporations to parody accounts. I like to see a little bit of everything in my feed, so I do my best to avoid what Eli Pariser calls “filter bubbles.” However, some would argue that my attempt to keep my information intake wide open falls flat.

While preparing for this post, I came across this rather relevant thought from Stephen Colbert.

While the hashtag adds a bit of humor to the message, the statement still has a valid point. It calls to mind the words of Nicholas Carr, who wrote the following in regards to the ever-evolving way we take in new media: “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

I agree with Carr that the way we take in information is changing, but I would argue it’s not a necessarily bad thing. The 430 Twitter users I follow provide me minute-by-minute with a wide range of topics to ingest, all from varying viewpoints, but admittedly that’s only because I’ve set it up to be so. If we don’t take advantage of the opportunities technologies afford us, there’s not much of a point in using them.

Now that being said, I don’t always practice what I preach, especially in regard to what David Silver calls “thick” tweets. I praise Twitter’s ability to spread all kinds of information and share diverse points of view, but I do love a good pun or a cat picture.

My attempt at a “thick” tweet.

It didn’t last very long.

I’d also like to push back a bit on the definition of “thick” tweets. Just because a tweet has several links, mentions, and hashtags, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more informative than a “thin” tweet. I’ve often scrolled past a dozen “thick” tweets, instead favoring the ones with funny quips or thoughtful observations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve avidly followed along with someone live tweeting a situation, eagerly awaiting the next update (whether newsworthy, like Ferguson, MO, or amusing, like that weird dude on the train).

I think there’s a lot of power and potential in  “thin” tweets, if used effectively. Like Julian Dibbell says, “by forcing users to commit their thinking to the bite-size form of the public tweet, Twitter may be giving a powerfully productive new life to a hitherto underexploited quantum of thought: The random, fleeting observation.”

So what do you think? Are formulaic “thick” tweets automatically better than well-thought out “thin” ones? Do links make a thought more important?



  1. I think that the link has the potential to back up someone’s opinion that they are posting, but I also thing that more often than not it provided irrelevant fluff meant to make the poster look more insightful than they truly are.

  2. I love that you call them “skinny thoughts.” I agree there is power in a tweet, even the skinny ones! Something that makes me laugh out loud on the train shouldn’t necessarily be ignored. As for your questions, I think that it isn’t a question of thick OR thin. It’s the mix that makes me, personally, enjoy a good twitter. If I’m following BBC, I’m obviously expecting mostly thick tweets – going to their content or related content. But they use thin tweets to, some journalist live-tweet whats happening in real time, and I think that is just as valid.

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