Blog Post

All We Really Need is Twitter

As I begin to the write this, essentially the entire world has just found out the Osama Bin Laden is dead. It is 10:57, and President Obama was set to make an announcement at 10:30. However, the President has yet to make the announcement. So how is it that everybody already knows what he was going to say, and everybody already knows the details at that? I've been sitting at my computer screen for about 45 minutes now, furiously clicking my "refresh" button on my Twitter feed every 30 seconds to see what new information I can find out. That's how.

The news sources I follow on Twitter...CNN, NYT, NBC, etc. are all in a race to get the information out first. And the rest of my friends and followers are already sounding off. Versions of "This is a good, this is a bad thing" are popping up on the screen every few seconds. People are engaging in discussion about what this means for the USA, what this means for Obama, what this means for terrorism and religion, and what this means for the world. And yet, the President still has yet to speak. Of course, Donald Trump and Where's Waldo jokes are already circluating. Osama Bin Laden, OBL, Barack Obama, and other related terms have already jumped to the top Trending Topics in just minutes, replacing those topics that now seem completely unimportant and almost ridiculous.

I'm amazed at how much information I am finding out about this event, and how this social media website is not only my primary source of information, but shaping my thoughts and opinions on this event as the minutes tick by. The opinions of my followers are all laid out for 140 characters. Are they pro-Obama or against? Are they scared for America's future or happy? What is their stance on religion? Without having to talk to them, and by just clicking refresh on my laptop, I can find all of this out! And still, the President has not confirmed the news.

Of course, that is what the news sources are for. To get the information out to us immediately, to speculate, to spark discussion. But as someone from this technological generation, and an avid user of all types of technology that can speed up any process and connect me to the rest of the world, I have never seen anything like this. I don't even realize that I've been sitting at my screen for over an hour, reading through tweets as they come in, tweeting my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. I'm so engulfed in what is going on on Twitter. And finally the President is about to speak. I know this because he tweets it himself. Well, I'm sure he himself doesn't tweet it, but the manager of his Twitter account acting as his proxy, informs the world that the President is about to announce the information. By this time, it's almost more of a formality. Everyone knows what the announcement is about, details about how, where and when this happened have been spilled, the President's speech is now just the closing statement.

Things get even more surreal to me, as I realize I don't even have to move to hear this announcement. I stream the President's speech from my computer, I don't even need to turn on my television. Half of my screen is displaying the speech, while the other half has my Twitter feed. I NEED to hear what everyone is saying, and match things up. If I don't press refresh for 5 minutes, I'll be so behind in this Twitter revolution!

(And for a second, I stop to imagine what celebrities feel like, as they get hundreds of tweets a second from loyal do they keep up!? And then I think about what people in different time zones, or those who have gone to sleep early, are missing out on. But no worries, it will probably be the first thing they read when they wake up, on Twitter, or through a text message, or NYT online, or some other digital form of communication. Now I'm wondering about where I was on 9/ this will sound in textbooks to future generations..will it even be in textbooks? Will there be textbooks? Will children need to know this, or can they just Google it if it comes up in conversation with their grandparents?!).

But my brain is wandering again. The brief announcement ends, and I'm left thinking about what a cool President we have. Calm, collected, intelligent, funny. I don't even think about what he has just said, because it's old news! SO ten minutes ago. People have already almost started fading the tweets concerning this historic moment and moved on to other things.

So what do I take away from the past two hours? Our brain's are literally on the Internet. What we are thinking gets converted into statements of 140 characters, and what other's believe is read by us in the same amount. We have short attention spans - we have become wired to be involved with something for a short period of time. We want to know, and value, what others think and say, but only in brief statements. We can not wait around to hear what is going on and what the "breaking news" is, we want to know in the moment. And what's more, the man at the top does not have to be the one to assure us about what is going on. We can sit in our chair, or on our bed, or even in the bathroom, and be connected to the entire world. Not only find out the breaking news, but everyone's thoughts about it, without ever really speaking or moving. So think about it...all we really need is Twitter. 



A group of other Duke students and I were studying for a final exam together, but we all took a break to join in the flurry of tweets/status updates/blog posts etc that were being updated incessantly last night. I thought a look at how social media has become the main source of news for our generation would be a great topic to post about on the HASTAC site, especially because it is so relevant to our class ("This Is Your Brain on the Internet", Professor: Cathy Davidson) -- it doesn't surprise me that you beat me to the post :)
The news of Osama Bin Laden's death spread so quickly through the social media sites that I hardly even listened to Obama's speech (had to get back to studying). I agree with your statement that his words were more like the closing statement of the event. I wanted to see how other people heard about the death of Bin Laden, so I sent a survey to everyone I know (Duke students, my parents, peers at other schools, etc). I also posted the survey as my Facebook status. In 5 minutes, I received 20 responses. It's been one hour, and I now have 84 responses. I thought I would post my results as a comment to your post, to add to your discussion of how much social media sites like Twitter are acting as news sources today.

I posted the question "How did you first hear about the death of Osama Bin Laden" with multiple choice responses (Word of mouth, Facebook statuses, Twitter, Online news source, Hardcopy of a newspaper, TV, Radio, Other). Responders were able to specify what they meant by "other", and were only able to pick one of the options.

Here are the current results of my survey:

Facebook statuses -- 29/84 (35%)

Word of Mouth -- 28/84 (33%)

Online news source -- 8/84 (10%)

Twitter -- 4/84 (5%)

Texting -- 4/84 (5%)

TV -- 4/84 (5%)

Email listserv -- 1/84 (1%)

Hardcopy of a newspaper -- 1/84 (1%)

4chan (/b) -- 1/84 (1%)

News Alert Email -- 1/84 (1%)

Phone call -- 1/84 (1%)

Radio -- 1/84 (1%)

Email -- 1/84 (1%)


Word of mouth is the 2nd most common way the individuals received the news, which is not surprising. The other top 3 news sources were: Facebook, online news source, and Twitter.

Of course, there are major considerations to take while looking at this data. For example, the survey was sent many of the individuals who responded to the survey are comfortable using the Internet consistently/daily.

However, I think it does give a glimpse at how prevalent the Internet is with our generation. News travels at lightening speed, and -- as you mentioned -- forgotten almost as quickly. From my point of view, the Internet and other technologies have really become all we need for global communication.


Hey Amrita, this was such a great idea for a survey!  I never would've thought to post a survey as a Facebook status - so brilliant!  Great job and interesting/telling results.  It's been great having you in class! :)