When You Tweet, Are You Talking or Writing?

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Megan Garber at the invaluable Nieman Lab posted a wonderful essay Friday breaking down how we can think about the kind of communication that Twitter allows. While most takes on this topic are glancing or arguments from intuition, Garber goes a step (or ten) deeper. Here's the kickoff:

What is Twitter, actually? (No, seriously!) And what type of communication is it, finally? If we're wondering why heated debates about Twitter's effect on information/politics/us tend to be at once so ubiquitous and so generally unsatisfying ... the answer may be that, collectively, we have yet to come to consensus on a much more basic question: Is Twitter writing, or is it speech?

And here's her conclusion:

The point is to acknowledge, online, a new environment -- indeed, a new culture -- in which writing and speech, textuality and orality, collapse into each other. Speaking is no longer fully ephemeral. And text is no longer simply a repository of thought, composed by an author and bestowed upon the world in an ecstasy of self-containment.

It's all really great stuff and worth your Monday morning reading time, whether you tweet or not. It pairs well with Atlantic correspondent Tim Carmody's 2009 Snarkmarket post, "Towards a Theory of Secondary Literacy," which glosses the work of Walter Ong, the Jesuit priest and scholar who basically created the vocabulary we use to talk about these things.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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