Shock new Telephone users poll from Prospect magazine

Here is a news release from Prospect magazine

PROSPECT PRESS RELEASE: NEW TELEPHONE-USERS POLL

Often seen as little more than a harmless waste of time, the much-hyped Telphone is increasingly being used as a tool by liberal and left-wing political campaigners. Telephone users are among the most liberal groups in Britain, a new national poll of 2000+ people by Prospect magazine and pollsters YouGov reveals.

The poll tested Britain’s 5.5m Telephone users and compared them to the rest of the country — revealing that British Telephoners actually have a strongly liberal and civil libertarian bias. This is in contrast to the popular view that David Cameron’s Conservatives and their pamphleting supporters are the most adept online force in politics.

The poll shows that while 57 per cent of Britons think greater police powers to tackle terrorism are more important than protecting civil liberties, less than half of Telephone users agree. Fifty-six per cent of the public agree that “the greatest victims of discrimination in Britain these days are often ordinary white men,” compared to only 45 per cent of Telephone users.

Etc Etc…

OK – you may have spotted this is not quite the release Prospect issued.  It was, of course, about Twitter.  And it was recycled by The Guardian and others.

The point is – when are clunky old journos  going to realise:

Twitter is not a web site.

Twitter is not a form of media.

Twitter is not a form of content.

Twitter is just an infrastructure – like the Telephone.  The demographics of its initial adoption carry zero significance – in the same way as the fact that early adopting of the ‘phone took place within a limited segment of the population bore no significance to the role of the Telephone once it became established in every household and on every desk.

When the Telephone first came along people made the same mistake Prospect is now making.  Everyone, including the ‘phone companies, assumed its was a form of content.  Phone companies even tried to determine what type of content was appropriate.  Funnily enough, they actively discouraged people using it for conversation.

Lets learn a little bit from history.

10 comments

  1. richardstacy

    Err… a newspaper, TV, radio. None of the things that define what we call media are shared by Twitter. Neither are any of the defining charatcteristics of Twitter shared by what we call media. Twitter is an infrastructure – closer to the phone network – hence why I use that analogy.

    We don’t yet have the language to describe what Twitter is, in the same way we didn’t have the language to describe the automobile when it first emerged. We described cars in the language of what it was they were replacing – hence we called them horseless carriages. Hence we call Twitter a form of media.

  2. Will Davies

    This is only true for those of us who don’t understand the word ‘media’. Media – plural of ‘medium’ – is defined as a means of communication. According to your examples, you seem to think that it has something to do with broadcasting and publishing.

    And to say “None of the things that define what we call media are shared by Twitter. Neither are any of the defining charatcteristics of Twitter shared by what we call media” is just absurd. Go on – think really hard, and see if you can think of something they have in common.

    I also like ‘twitter is not a website’. How many other forms of ‘infrastructure’ can be accessed with the letters ‘www’ in front of their name?

  3. Ben Walker

    Will, you’re right: Twitter is a form of media, but I think you’re deliberately misunderstanding Richard’s point. It is not a form of mass media (which blogs might arguably be).

    http://twitter.com is a website but Twitter is not. It’s both a company and a communication infrastrucure.

    Some of the demographic studies of Twitter are definitely interesting to me personally (gives me something to tweet about, at least ;), but I agree with Richard that they will eventually be irrelevant. I see it taking a long time though – I know a load of people who refused to get a mobile phone for years, or start texting, or emailing, etc. Probably the over 55-year-olds and Conservative voters. 😉

  4. richardstacy

    Ben,

    You made some of the points I was going to make in reply re deliberate misunderstanding and Twitter not being a website.

    To further eloborate – I ‘do’ Twitter using Seesmic Desktop (not a web site) and in so far as a have a web address for Twitter I never actually go there.

    WWW stands for world-wide-web I believe – not World Wide Website.

    Have also thought really hard – still can’t think of any significant characteristic that Twitter has in common with what we currently media – perhaps Will could enlighten us.

  5. richardstacy

    Hello Ben, by the way. I didn’t realise you were That Ben Walker!

    I suspect the time taken for Twitter (or something Twitterlike) to reach the level of penetration where it becomes – to quote Clay Shirky – technically boring (and therefore socially interesting) is shorter than you suspect.

  6. Will Davies

    Re Twitter and other media, it provides a way of sharing information with a large number (potentially millions) of people. I’d say that’s pretty significant.

    Anyway, this is getting a little childish, for which I apologise. I just don’t see the value in claiming that things are unprecedented and beyond our current language, when it’s far more interesting to view them as latest steps in the evolution of mediated communication.

    Social media is interesting in that it blends functions of broadcast/public media with those of person-to-person/private media (although so does the letters page of a newspaper). That someone thought of introducing things like 140-character limits and ‘followers’ is clever, but it’s not an eruption of blinding, absolute novelty.

    • richardstacy

      I wouldn’t say it is childish – it is an important debate because it all comes down to the thorny issue “social media – evolution or revolution”. From a technical perspective, it looks like a small evolutionary step – there is esssntially nothing new or radical in the technology of social media. However, when you look beyond the technology, you realise the massive significance of social media – which is the fact that control of information now doesn’t just sit in the hands of institutions – it sits in the hands of everyone.

      Critically, this doesn’t mean that everyone can now be a broadcaster – it is doing away with the very notion of broadcasting. Twitter is not about sharing information with large numbers of people. Its about sharing information. The “large numbers of people” is a redundant assumption, based on our previous understanding of media, by default, being mass media.

      This is where all the people that have a vested interest in “old” media (digital or otherwise) really struggle. Journalists keep waiting for a blog to emerge that looks like an on-line version of a newspaper and reaches the same numbers of people their own on-line offerings reach – in the belief that until this happens, they can’t be threatened. They don’t realise that they are being made irrelevant, they are being replaced by something that looks totally different – not blogs, but blogging. Not by institutions (like newspapers) but by a process. http://richardstacy.com/2009/06/05/andrew-keens-head-and-the-shift-from-institutions-to-processes/

      Anyway – enough. You can see the ‘social media revolution’ is my thing! If you want more you can check out http://richardstacy.com/my-articles/

  7. Steve Ellwood

    I like the suggestion that Twitter should be compared to the telephone. The belief of some that Twitter users are particularly liberal, and that this signifies anything in particular is amusing.

    However, I can’t really see too many phone companies saying “We’ll disconnect you because we don’t like what you’re saying to people that want you to ring them”.

    Which is more or less what Twitter said to Dave Winer.

    • richardstacy

      I wouldn’t be surprised if phone companies did things like this in the early days of the phone – i.e. when they still thought they owned or could shape the content or had aspirations to sell themselves as a content platfrom.

      Twitter, as with all forms of social media, is different. It is not the “latest step in the evolution of mediated communication” in the sense that we used to understand “mediated”. My phone analogy is probably incomplete – because we don’t yet know what Twitter will end up being analagous to. Phone only works at the moment to try and deter people from seeing Twitter (and all forms of social media) as types of content in the same way a newspaper was a type of content shaped by the rules that applied to the form of distribution that was “newspaper”. Twitter just IS content – it is not a type of content.

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