Letter From The Editor 

How Twitter has changed the way we watch television.

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Dreamstime

I don't know how many of you out there are on Twitter, but for those of us who are, the 140-character social medium has transformed the way we view television.

Pre-Twitter, most of us sat in our living rooms and watched, say, a Grizzlies game or the Super Bowl or a presidential debate with our families or maybe a couple of friends. We'd bemoan a bad call or make snide remarks about a candidate's gaffes, but no one heard us.

Now, those who tweet are engaged in a mass conversation via computer or smartphone while watching major televised events. On Monday night, for example, the Cardinals and Giants were playing Game 7 of the NLCS at the same time President Obama and Mitt Romney were engaged in the final presidential debate.

I was watching the debate, but I got a complete sense of what was going on in the baseball game from the steady stream of anguished tweets coming from Greg Gaston, Geoff Calkins, Frank Murtaugh, Gary Parrish, Chris Vernon, and many others, local and national, who were watching the Cardinals blow that game. Similarly, they were all being kept up to date on the debate by the comments of, to name a few, Wendi Thomas, Shea Flinn, Jackson Baker, myself, and others, well-known and not so well-known, not to mention Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, Wonkette, the Onion, and every other pundit in the country.

My Twitter "stream" of comments was moving so fast it was difficult to keep up and still watch the actual debate. Never has the phrase "everyone's a comedian" been more apt. Critics say that social media interaction is a distraction that diminishes the weighty matters at hand. I would argue that Twitter gets more people to watch, even if it's only to see what everyone's chattering about. And it also serves as an instant fact-check. For instance, when Romney cited Syria as being Iran's link to the sea, it took only seconds for someone to tweet-post a map of the Middle East, illustrating the geographic absurdity of that claim.

There won't be another debate for four years. By then, Twitter may be history. If so, it will be only because something faster and more convenient has taken its place. The line between celebrity and non-celebrity is fading. A national — even international — conversation is taking place 24 hours a day around the globe. Social media is spreading like kudzu, helping foment change in the Middle East and, in less dramatic ways, here in the U.S. We're all connected now, for better or for snark. Or both.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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