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twitterblackberryUSEA friend of mine alerted me yesterday to the hoopla surrounding a tweet from entrepreneur and career counselor to young women, Penelope Trunk, who posted the following last week: “I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.” 

The tweet has sparked controversy throughout the blogosphere, particularly on women’s sites, from feminist protesting Trunk’s cavalier approach to abortion to concerns about the appropriateness of the material. Amanda Marcotte, controversial blogger and pot-stirrer par excellence, supported the tweet as “an elegant instance of the power of Twitter.” 

Comments ranged from the predictable “gross!” to the sympathetic “perhaps this is how she expresses her grief” and naturally, the moral implications of abortion have been front and center. 

My first question is: in our brave (or perhaps I should say, narcissistic) world of full and immediate disclosure, is anything off-limits?

I’ve always said that if content disturbs you, you are free to ignore it. In the good old days of print journalism, the “naughty” magazines came in brown wrappers and movies were (and still are, sort of) rated so you knew what you were getting into – or not.

But tweets go to the followers, who send them to others, who dissect and analyze them and then forward them to all sorts of outlets. How could I – or my nine-year-old niece – have avoided this tweet? Do I want her thinking everyone is (or should be) this seemingly easy-going about a miscarriage or an abortion? Will she be fooled into thinking these issues come with no more emotional complications than perhaps irritation or relief?

Trunk argues that miscarriage is a fact of life and life intrudes on work, and you can’t manage the balance if you can’t talk about it. I agree. Lots of things are facts of life: the messiness of grief, the reality of resenting one’s  offspring, the gracelessness of aging, or petty pleasure one occasionally takes from seeing someone else fail. Maybe these things do need to come out in the open. Besides, tweeting about the taboo is a great career-booster.

But to my second question: can you really describe anything important in 140 characters?

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TwitI am not the most backward person I know when it comes to technology but neither am I in the vanguard. Some of that relates to my skill set (not innately tech-focused  and my age (the dark side of fifty). I also find the immediacy of certain kinds of high-tech communication leaves a lot to be desired in the in-depth department. Texting is fine when you are running late (or L8) and sending a tweet that says “help” when you’re sinking in quicksand might make sense, but as for reporting (not to mention analyzing, deciphering, dissecting or opining on) the news, I want quality, I want depth and I want complete sentences.

Let me now revise that.

protestIn the space of a few days, Twitter, that ubiquitous and previously irritating form of communication favored by second-strong celebrities, has become a force for real revolution: the kind that allows ordinary (or extraordinary) citizens a voice even in the midst of a government crackdown on communications. Of course I’m referring to Iran, where young protesters are broadcasting minute by real-time minute about their protests in a way that CNN has been absolutely unable to do.

There are a number of reports that talk about this new use for this new medium, including today’s New York Times and a recent post by Andrew Sullivan online at the Atlantic Magazine.

But what I’m most excited about is not just the on-the-spot, heartfelt reporting (one demonstrator sent a tweet that proclaimed “Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm.”) but also the response of the other social networkers around the world. They are providing support both emotional (a large Facebook group as well as a number of followers around the world plugged in to “listen” to the opposition reports) and practical (supplying proxy server addresses for Twitter accounts when the government shuts down local Internet access).

Think about it: a democratic uprising takes place in one part of the world and people all over the globe can mobilize world opinion and perhaps more in a nanosecond. Are there young people in North Korea who, drawn to the social power of Facebook or Twitter, will also be drawn to protest1the power of freedom? What about Cuba? What about Saudi Arabia? Moreover, what does the involvement of twitterers say about the potential to interest an entire generation in the politics of communication and the possibility of change?

Twitter will still be used for inane reports about the breakfast habits of wanna-be A-listers and as a cruelly simple way of engineering a breakup, I suppose. But the idea that it can be used to sustain a social democracy movement has me as excited as I’ve been in years. I’m ready to open an account if I can sustain the required manual dexterity; I want to keep up. peace

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