This morning, Madhavan Narayanan (@madversity), respected journalist with The Hindustan Times, had this to say on his timeline: “Twitter will be perceived as bazaar chatter as long as it fails to throw up a hierarchy of expertise with a matching quality of listening.”
For reasons I cannot fathom, Narayanan’s opinion reminded me of the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. For those who cannot remember the lines, or for those who haven’t read the play, here they are:
Enter Flavius, Marullus, and certain Commoners over the stage.
Hence! home, you idle creatures, get you home.
Is this a holiday? What, know you not,
Being mechanical, you ought not walk
Upon a laboring day without the sign
Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?
Perhaps I can fathom why I thought of Julius Caesar. It was the thought that the play opened with ‘commoners’ being questioned by authority, and the use of the words ‘bazaar chatter’ by Narayanan.
A few minutes later, Flavius says to Marullus,
And drive away the vulgar from the streets;
So do you too, where you perceive them thick.”
And I re-read these lines, and I agree with Narayanan – twitter will be perceived as bazaar chatter.
And then I disagree with him, when he says, “as long as it fails to throw up a hierarchy of expertise with a matching quality of listening.”
Twitter is a new bazaar, with a new ability to join the conversation, a bazaar where the vox populi can be heard.
If the oldest form of the vulgar commoner making his voice heard was through the ‘Letters to the editor’ column of the newspapers, the ‘comments’ option on websites was the new one. Here the vulgar could stay vulgar, staying anonymous and make inexpert comments. Facebook changed this significantly, allowing one the ability to choose who one heard and conversed with. Twitter is a bit short of Facebook, as one has only the ability to block, not to approve, a follower.
But usage on twitter has evolved, and, slowly, a “a hierarchy of expertise with a matching quality of listening” has emerged. Those who’ve been tweeting for a while slowly ‘improve’ the quality of engagement on their timelines by blocking the unwanted, the poor listener and the poor commentator.
So an Anand Mahindra is followed by over 4,70,000 on twitter though he follows less than 100. Through those he follows, he gets a sense of what he wants to listen to. The commoner, by using the ‘@’ option, can, technically, be heard by Mahindra. If the ‘@’ -ing is a nuisance, Mahindra can block the offending voice.
That’s what twitter is. It’s not an exclusive club where the only business conducted is high-quality debate. It is a bazaar, where the elite and the commoner can exchange views and understand each other better.
That’s what makes twitter rich. If Narayanan’s views on the hierarchy of expertise and listening do become real, twitter will be the poorer for it, not the richer.