I often hear people say they hate to read on screen. And after spending hours each day trolling the web – squinting at my backlit screen until my eyes feel like hot, dry marbles rolling around in their sockets – I start to hate my computer too. Yet I have to acknowledge that without it, I would hardly know what to read for work or pleasure (er, aside from the many books I own but haven’t read, that is). And now, Twitter has made reading online even more exciting, absorbing and efficient.
Yes, Twitter. Many publishing people say they are avoiding it, because they already spend more time on the computer than they want to. But when it comes to gathering book news – and engaging with smart insiders across the industry, as well as general readers – there are a few good reasons to consider it not only a labor-saving device, but even as a unique and powerful tool.
Twitter as Information Filter: #amazonfail
Case in point: yesterday, I had only half an hour in the morning to check my e-mail and the top publishing news. Three e-mails from friends sent to me to:
1. Jacket Copy, a blog at the Los Angeles Times, which reported author Michael R. Probst‘s claim that Amazon.com had a new policy to remove books with “adult” content from the site’s bestseller rankings (meaning that books were significantly less visible on the site and could only be found by an exact title search). Yet many of the affected books were hardly pornographic, such as the children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies, as well as James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Ellen DeGeneres’s: A Biography.
2. An online petition demanding that Amazon reverse the policy, which appeared to affect queer books disproportionately. (A later statement from Amazon did not address the putative policy issue, claiming instead that there had been “cataloging error” affecting 57,310 books and not just queer authors.)
3. A link to the Twitter discussion on this topic, #amazonfail, which has surpassed the discussions about Easter and Jesus on the popular microblogging site. That discussion immediately led me to breaking news stories that other readers said were the best they’d read, and pithy observations by publishing insiders, sassy queer commentators and smart bloggers I’d never heard of before. It also gave me an ongoing reference point for real-time updates and commentary.
The Twitter Difference
Before Twitter, when I relied on e-mail alone, I’d have spent 15 minutes reading one article on the day’s big story, signing a petition and emailing a few friends about the issue, and would probably have left it at that.
But with Twitter, and another spare 15 minutes or so, I was not only able to find and read a well-curated handful of breaking news stories quickly, but also to absorb insights from scores of knowledgeable people and share my thoughts with them directly – and even to bookmark those whom I’d like to actively engage in building community around queer books going forward.
Now, you might well ask if I needed to spend a half hour on a Monday morning reading up on this story and discussing it with others. This time, the answer is yes, because I report on the intersection of publishing and new media, and am also committed to building community around queer books. (In other cases, like when I spent half an hour engaging the Twitterverse about my nephew’s architectural dessert jellies, the answer is not so much.)
But here’s my main point: the Twitter difference is connecting with a spontaneous, engaged community that cares about what I care about, and is thinking about it at the exact same time as me — and sometimes even making big news while doing it. And it’s a community I can remain in touch with, simply by choosing to follow the smartest and best commentators in the Twitterverse.
So, even though it may not help with eyestrain, I find Twitter indispensible to my job – which is, of course, following the readers.