Opinion: The problem of tweeting without reading

Newsweek Obama coverLet’s get something straight: 140 characters is a headline, not an article. An opening salvo, not an argument.

Jonathan Capehart’s Washington Post editorial today “Reaction to Newsweek’s ‘gay Obama’ cover: Death of the metaphor” identifies one of the saddest cultural losses attributable to our sound bite world. A number of people saw the Newsweek headline in their Twitter streams and spouted off their reactions–without reading the article, and therefore without understanding the historical context of the headline (it was a reference to Toni Morrison’s praise of Bill Clinton for being the “first black president”). When called on their knee-jerk reactions, some made it clear they felt no need to read the article in order to understand the intent of the headline. They assumed—incorrectly—that the headline was a statement of fact. Capehart goes on to quote a friend who commented, “It’s clear that the art of the metaphor has skipped present generations.”

I’m as guilty of speed reading as the next social media junkie. But I don’t share articles that I haven’t read. Nor do I publicly state opinions about those articles until I’ve read them. I know I’m not alone.

So why are so many people comfortable wearing their ignorance on their sleeves? Capehart’s editorial draws attention to only one example of people proudly choosing rash judgements over informed opinions.

A woman I once knew declared that her passion was to write a book. But—and she said this with a straight face—she’d never read a whole book in her life and didn’t intend to before she sat down to write what she was convinced would be a bestseller.

A group blog I participate in just moved their share buttons from the end of each full post to the beginning of the post excerpt on the blog index—to accommodate the statistics that suggest people prefer to share first and then, maybe, read it.

When did browsing your Twitter stream replace reading the content of the links in your Twitter stream?

Is it wilful ignorance? The pressure to produce a lot in a little time? A resistance to anything that seems educational or self-reflective? A profound sense of boredom or apathy? A desire to be seen as a rebel or a wit, or just be seen, period?

If social media killed the metaphor, it seems public self-respect may be next in the crosshairs.

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