There are many ways to think about the latest tragic school shooting incident, on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. One way is: “Did Twitter tell me about it quickly enough?”
That sounds ridiculous, of course. But as it happens, Twitter has been experimenting with a service beta-named Event Parrot that promises to alert users to breaking news, via direct messages to whoever is curious enough about this obviously in-progress product to follow along. Most recently @eventparrot direct-messaged its followers an Associated Press tweet: “BREAKING: Authorities say 3 people shot in or near a Pittsburgh high school; police searching for gunman.”
For some followers, the takeaway from the shooting news was that Event Parrot failed. Why? Because its information was delivered too slowly.
“Took 21 minutes for @eventparrot to send me the @AP tweet about the Pittsburgh school shooting,” one follower complained. Another chimed in at roughly the same time: “If Twitter wants
@eventparrot to become a thing, it really needs to learn how to speed notifications up.”
After roughly two minutes, this basic complaint evidently needed to take more hyperbolic and sarcastic form: “So when is
@eventparrot going to notify us about the fall of the Berlin Wall?” Or: “I've read news in the paper the next day faster than I have from Event Parrot.”
Uh … hold on a second. Just how quickly do most of us really need to know about a shooting in Pittsburgh? Is the idea just to be the first person in your office to say, "A shooting in Pittsburgh, everybody!"
Maybe serving that specific need is the best way for Event Parrot to “become a thing.” And I guess “a thing” in this case would mean roughly “a source of alpha-mayhem-knowledge-based social capital.”
If you want to be the person in your circle who is always first with the latest bulletin of the violent deterioration of our social fabric, then maybe those 21 minutes really matter. That’s time you could have spent telling everyone you know … about something completely horrible … that they cannot affect … and that they would eventually hear about anyway.
Sure, there are situations where the raw speed of breaking news might really matter, particularly if that news is unfolding in near physical proximity to a given recipient. But just how instantaneously do most of us really need to know about a shooting in Pittsburgh? If you’re strolling through Central Park and don’t know anybody in Pittsburgh, does a 21-minute delay really matter? For casual news readers, who just want to be kept abreast of current events within a reasonable time frame, can 21 minutes even really be called a delay?
And for those of you (sensibly) wondering whether the single thing our pervasive real-time media culture has actually mastered is breaking news of awful tragedies over which we have absolutely no control, I offer you a different critique of Event Parrot: “The
@eventparrot account should be renamed @depressedparrot,” summarized one tweeter. “It's a guaranteed bummer delivery mechanism.”
Indeed. Yet apparently there’s a keen audience for a bummer delivery mechanism. But it’s a demanding one, and it doesn’t have 21 minutes to waste. So if you’re going to build such a thing for these aspiring Alpha Knowers, I guess you better make sure it’s really, really efficient. These people have colleagues to inform of tragedies.