Twittering is a difficult art form – if you are doing it right

Yesterday, Jay Rosen on Twitter wrote that his goal on Twitter was to have “a Twitter feed that is 100 percent personal (my own view on things…) and zero percent private.”
This is an excellent description of mindcasting. Its alternative, ‘lifecasting’ is 100% private made public.
There is nothing wrong with lifecasting, of course. It is a different style of communication. It is using Twitter with a different goal in mind.
Mindcasting is a method to use Twitter for exchange of news, information, analysis and opinion.
Lifecasting is a method to use Twitter to make friends and communicate with them, to be in a continuous presence in a community of one’s liking.
In a way, the difference between lifecasting and mindcasting is similar to the difference in the use of phatic language versus semantic (or conceptual) language (aside: I have used these concepts before in discussing politics, creationism, etc., e.g., here, here, here and here).
Many observers and analysts of online social networks, usually but not always curmudgeons who like to criticize for the sake of getting people off their lawns, focus entirely on lifecasting and, if they are erudite and educated, they may note its use of phatic language.
Phatic language is the use of words without paying too much attention to their dictionary meaning – the goal is to diffuse social tensions, to establish non-attack pacts between strangers at first meeting, or to reinforce friendship, alliance, or even love.
In politics and propaganda, it is misused for nefarious purposes – drawing the walls between Us and Them, using emotional appeals (or dog-whistles, if the target audience is religious) to get people to vote against their interests, or to vote for interests of the conglomerates, parties or organizations who are paying spin-meisters (like Frank Luntz and Eric Dezenhall) to get the public opinion swayed against the facts unpleasant/expensive to them, for example duping a big proportion of the population into rejecting the fact that the climate is changing fast and that the human activity is the major factor engendering this change.
On the other hand, mindcasting is using semantic (or conceptual) language, where words are supposed to hold their dictionary meanings. The point of mindcasting tweets is to relay information in as clear, succinct, efficient and non-confusing manner as possible. The limit of 140 characters makes tweeting – in a mindcasting sense – very difficult. It is one of the hardest forms of prose to do well.
The masters of Twitter are the masters of language – able to put unambiguous, information-rich, dense yet clear messages out to their audiences. The best twitterers spend quite some time and thought writing and editing each tweet until it is as perfect a package of information as possible – clear, informative in itself, and also motivating the readers to click on the embedded link to find out more. It is not easy to use semantic language in a way that is impossible to read using a phatic mindset – to have it so obviously conceptual that no emotional reading – and thus misunderstanding – is possible. It is a high art.
For those who are good at this difficult art, mindcasting is just the beginning, the first step in communication that may progress from a series of tweets on a topic to a longer blog post, to perhaps an MSM article or even book. It has happened (ask David Dobbs – he recently signed a book deal on a topic that went pretty much through all these steps: starting on social networks, getting feedback there, leading to a couple of blog posts, leading to an article in Atlantic, leading to a book).
So, keep lifecasting if you need to and want to, if that is your goal. But if you have more serious ambitions in media, journalism or science communication, consider mindcasting as your style. As Jay said, mindcasting is full of personality – it is not dry regurgitation of someone else’s news, it is not just a broadcast: it is a conversation about facts and ideas. And it is 0% private.
Now, Jay’s standards are tough, perhaps too tough (even he tweeteed at least a couple of times in his years on Twitter about his private life, e.g., accomplishments of some of his family members). But having it 95% personal and only 5% private is probably good enough ratio for most of us mere mortals.


9 responses to “Twittering is a difficult art form – if you are doing it right

  1. Thanks for this. Clearly there is need for more clear differentiation between different types of uses as too large portion of writings about Twitter (and other similar services) focus too much on lifecasting or traditional sharing uses of it. Journalism as a form of art would surely benefit from more personal approach while trying to avoid too private/boring aspects of things in the same time.

  2. Dude, that “mindcasting” shit is totally last year. Everyone who’s anyone knows that douchecasting is where it’s at today!

  3. I don’t know how I feel about this. On the one hand, yeah, I suppose personal without private is useful for some people. But this feels awfully gendered to me. For instance, have you noticed how many women in the science blogosphere write about their personal lives, not just their science? We tend to forge connections over the “private” and it’s an important way to build relationships. It is often important for women and people from other underrepresented groups to use social media outlets like blogs and Twitter to make their lives less invisible. Might this be true in other disciplines, like journalism?
    On my blog I like to think I do a fair bit of mindcasting… but I also write about my private life, and I enjoy when others write about it too. On Twitter it’s the same thing: I get a lot out of hearing people think, seeing what links they share, but I also get a lot out of hearing they are also eating lunch at their desk because they have too much to do.
    Just my two cents…

  4. Also, just to add after doing a closer reading of your post: my intent is not to create a straw person which was saying “Lifecasting sux!” But I still think it’s important to point out that for many folks, a decent blend of mind/lifecasting is professionally useful.
    Oh, and, that “my wedding dress” game ad on your right sidebar is pretty darn offensive. I know you probably don’t see it so thought I’d flag it.

  5. Sorry, this just really got me thinking… ping!

  6. The most interesting Tweeps I follow do some of both. Don’t let’s get too high-minded about Twitter.

  7. Jay Rosen has, what seems to me, lofty goals. I wish I had time to create content, to have a Twitter feed like that

  8. Pingback: 2010 in review | A Blog Around The Clock