What's Better: Books, Blogs, or Twitter?

Fight! Fight! Fight!

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The pundits of Washington, D.C. are spending a lot of time snowed in at home with relatively little news to blog about. That means: plenty of time for cabin fever, gripes about Google Buzz, and a long, esoteric debate about an abstract issue! It seems the question of choice for the Great Blizzard of 2010 is: Which medium is best equipped for conveying information? Books? Twitter? Books typed out on Twitter?

In Support of New Media

  • New Media Only Displaces Bad Books  Matthew Yglesias thinks it's silly to fault blogs and Twitter. "Just consider the volume of new good books that have been written in the past 50 years." Yet no one ever worries that new books are destroying society by displacing old books. "Obviously, though, the publication of new books is progress rather than regress." Yglesias says it's the same with other forms of media, such as blogs, adding to the collective of information.
  • Bad Books Are Huge Time-Wasters  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, "I like books. I read them. I want to write one. But many books are -- sorry about this -- quite bad, and the time it takes to figure that out is quite significant. We venerate the medium, but not for good reason." He adds that books are not really in competition with blogs and Twitter, because the mediums are consumed at different times.
  • Kindle Can Reduce Absurd Book Lengths  Crooked Timber's Henry Brighouse estimates, "about 80% of the non-academic non-fiction books that I do not find a complete waste of time [...] are at least twice as long as they should be." He suggests that the economics of the industry bloat books far beyond what they should be, and that a Kindle-led book economy would allow for shorter, cheaper essay-length publications that better serve the reader. Yglesias agrees.

In Support of Old Media

  • Blogs Can Never Capture 'Big Picture'  Mother Jones's Kevin Drum laments that "people sometimes think they can understand complex issues merely by reading lots of blog posts and newspaper articles. I'm not so sure of that. There's a big difference between a 100,000-word book on healthcare and 100,000 words of real-time commentary on healthcare." Books offer the "big picture" by connecting all the little strands that blogs present individually.
  • Twitter No Substitute For Journalism  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg scoffs at The New York Times's technology blogger, "I would rather see The Times use its limited resources to pay for a bigger Kabul bureau instead of funding 'Bits blogging.'" Goldberg points to George Packer's concerns about "the deleterious effects of Twitter and various other technologies that shorten attention spans, deprive people of time to read books (and, you know, magazines), and otherwise lamented the torrent of infocrap flooding our in-boxes and slowly killing off serious, reasoned, deeply-reported journalism."
  • New York Disdains Twitter  The New Yorker does not like Twitter one bit. Quoth George Packer, "Any journalist who cheerleads uncritically for Twitter is essentially asking for his own destruction." Steve Coll suggests Twitter lacks "moral characteristics." Both agree that Twitter is a time-waste and poor source of information.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.