George Packer Tackles Twitter, Angers Info Freaks

George posted the other day on 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.  Of course, he pissed off thin-skinned tech triumphalists everywhere, including Nick Bilton, the Times' "lead Bits blogger," which means I don't know what exactly. Bilton wrote:

Twitter is transforming the nature of news, the industry from which Mr. Packer reaps his paycheck. The news media are going through their most robust transformation since the dawn of the printing press, in large part due to the Internet and services like Twitter. After this metamorphosis takes place, everyone will benefit from the information moving swiftly around the globe.

Personally, I would rather see The Times use its limited resources to pay for a bigger Kabul bureau instead of funding "Bits blogging." In any case, Packer responded to Bilton yesterday:

Just about everyone I know complains about the same thing when they're being honest--including, maybe especially, people whose business is reading and writing. They mourn the loss of books and the loss of time for books. It's no less true of me, which is why I'm trying to place a few limits on the flood of information that I allow into my head.

George pointed to a recent discussion between the Atlantic's Michael Kinsley and Marc Ambinder on Marc's reading habits as evidence that books are going away:

Ambinder's day begins and ends with Twitter, and there's plenty of Twitter in between. No mention of books, except as vacation material via the Kindle. I'm sure Ambinder still reads books when he's not on vacation, but it didn't occur to him to include them in his account, and I'd guess that this is because they're not a central part of his reading life.

I too found it interesting that Marc didn't mention books much. I asked Marc about Packer's observation, and he wrote, "I read several hundred books a year, including Packer's books. I write thousands of words per day. And I organize my information stream around Twitter. So far as I know, I don't have a brain tumor and I do have a healthy social life."

Packer's generally right about Twitter (I use it mainly to steer people to longer pieces), but Marc isn't the best target; he's actually literate, and he actually reports -- and values reported, closely-edited journalism. If our business were filled with Ambinders, it would have a brighter future than it currently has. And it definitely needs more Packers. Biltons it already has in abundance.