Saturday, December 01, 2012

Tweets from the Top

They are numerous ways of counting and bemoaning the end of civilization. Not civilization with a capital "C," meaning mankind and cities and towns. But civilization with a little "c," meaning books by John Updike and face-to-face contact and appreciating art hanging on a wall. For sure you can blame demographics or income levels or even the ozone layer. But in most cases the prime suspects are some variant of technology. Conversation? That would be email. Deep relationships? The usual villain is Facebook. Walking down the street and running into someone, figuratively? That would be smartphones, which cause you to walk down the street and run into someone, literally.

Up until now, the drive to digitize the world has come from the bottom up, and has predominantly revolved around lifestyle issues. Your co-workers post their whereabouts on foursquare and you read books on your tablet. Stores send out electronic coupons to be redeemed on your iPhone, craft show artisans swipe your American Express card through their Square connection and you settle up that bill for dinner with your friends via PayPal. Forget e-mail; it's e-everything.

We're starting to see things, however, of a more consequential nature be influenced by digital advances. The most recent prominent examples were the well documented dispatches from the front lines of the Middle East courtesy of Twitter, which were credited as one of the driving forces behind the entire Arab Spring. That's not to say that your despots and presidents and crown princes don't have an online presence. After all, the web is nothing if not cheap and open, and most governments and rulers at least pay lip service to free media and easy access. They also like to appear contemporary and connected, like Ed Sullivan introducing Topo Gigio as something for the kids in the audience.

But I noted recently something that showed an inversion. The New York Times, the paper of record, an organization that prides itself on primary sources and scrupulous fact checking, is quoting on its front page a Twitter feed. Not the denial of a starlet caught in yet another scandal, nor the strangled voice of some student demonstrators. Rather, as the Middle East is erupting yet again, the Times is talking about the targets the Israeli military is hitting, and using as its authoritative source the army's own Twitter feed.  

Yes, a Twitter feed. One hundred and forty characters, and not a period more. Or as published, "Overnight, as the conflict entered its eighth day, the Israeli military said in Twitter posts that 'more than 100 terror sites were targeted, of which approximately 50 were underground rocket launchers.' The targets included the Ministry of Internal Security in Gaza, described as 'one of Hamas's main command and control centers.'"

 Of course, you don't have to read those tweets in the paper. You can sign up yourself, and join the more than 205,000 others who find out what a country with a iPhone wants say. That means that sandwiched in between friends' musing on Corvettes and sushi, you could get notice of a bombing raid in Gaza, possibly directly from the pilot: "JTLYK, big strike 2day. U r not going to bleave how accur8 we are! CUL8R"

And the etiquette of Twitter demands that should you sign up to follow @IDF, they will at least consider following you back. And whose dispatches does the official voice of the Israeli Defense Forces receive? Among the 86 Tweeters it follows are some you might expect, like @AmbShapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel, and @StateDepartment, the feed from the US Department of State. But it also gets the most up to the minute musings of @MajPeterLerner, who describes himself as an "Israeli with British roots. Serving in the IDF. Loves good humor, spiffy & courteous remarks." And @EytanBuchman, whose profile notes that addition to being Head of the North American Desk in the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit, he's "also a pretty good guy, into technology and not bad at lame magic tricks."

And if the Israeli Army can tweet as one voice, what's next? Sure, @Hamas or @UnitedStates, but also other non-official, yet single entities. So sign up now to see what is being said by @Hollywood or @Detroit or @SiliconValley. And be the first to hear from @WallSteet when it tweets, "OMG! Fed does8 have a clue. YOYO!"


Marc Wollin of Bedford still doesn't know how to tweet correctly. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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