The Aviators of Social Media

By | December 15, 2008

What’s more astonishing: Twitter’s extraordinary capabilities for distributing information, or news managers’ reluctance to recognize its power?

When describing a digital media phenomenon to old media staff it’s useful to look for an old media analogy. I describe Twitter, as being like an old AP news printer, sitting in the corner of the newsroom, spitting out news all day long. Except it’s written by the people you choose to follow.

And there’s more. Unlike the news printer which only delivered you information, if you want to you can follow stories back to your sources and see who they were talking to about whatever it is that interests you.

But even after my analogies, my bubbling enthusiasm for Twitter, and my “see, I can see what people who do my job are saying all over the country,” I’m still often met with those “whatever makes you happy” smiles.

Which leads me to another analogy. Perhaps the Twitterati, and other news people experimenting with digital media tools are a little like the early aviators.

In the years before the First World War there were very few of them. They were flying planes, building new planes, talking about planes and constantly trying new ideas. I’ve no doubt they were totally obsessed with flight. Are two engines better than one? Will monoplanes fly faster than biplanes? How about using metal for the wings?

But for everyone else, planes probably seemed fun, but dangerous and of no real interest to them. How would planes ever impact their lives? Besides everyone else had better things to do on carts and trains. And those crazy aviators; well, good luck to them.

Times have changed. No one thinks twice about flying today. No one thinks about whether the plane will have enough fuel or what makes it stay up. Flying is just a part of life, in spite of the fact that the general idea of a flying machine has really changed very little in a hundred years. It still has two wings, a body and a tail. It’s just more refined and developed.

One day soon we’ll be in Twitter’s age of commercial flight. Everyone will take micro-blogging for granted, and wonder what life must have been like buying newspapers for news, or looking at one of those old televisions. “Remember those,” we’ll say, with a smile.

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