On June 22, 2009 I was situating myself in anticipation of my evening commute home from New York City. As the train left Grand Central Terminal, I naturally turned to my BlackBerry to check the most recently updated Twitter feeds that I follow. At 5:46 p.m., CNN tweeted: “Two D.C. Metro trains collided during rush hour.” I immediately called my younger brother, Ben, who was in D.C. at the time, to see if he was alright—he hadn’t even heard about the crash yet, so I told him to check his Twitter feed. 5:50 p.m.: “CNN confirms at least one fatality in the DC Metro train collision.” 6:05 p.m.: “Metro spokeswoman confirms at least two fatalities in DC Metro train collision.” And on, and on, the whole trip home as the New York Times, AP News Alert, and hundreds upon hundreds of other Twitter users caught on. When my mom picked me up at the train at 6:15, she asked how my day was and if I had been in touch with Ben. “Yes, I called him right away!” I said. “He’s fine though, don’t worry.” Worry? Neither she nor my dad had heard about the accident yet.
Both of my parents actively read newspapers, watch CNN, and read online reports. Their lack in timely information was a function of accessibility, not a function of the quality or quantity of their sources. Upon questioning, my dad revealed that communal televisions mounted on the walls throughout his office air Bloomberg and CNBC around the clock. While people rarely spend large amounts of time watching, news still floats through the workplace and everyone becomes passively aware of stories as they break. This is no different from checking the Bloomberg or CNBC Twitter feed: in general, each tweet is the station’s latest title or lede. The entire stream creates a minute-by-minute news report from which the reader can take what he or she wants , ignoring the rest. And with Twitter, this “taking” has far more potential than just the absorption of information. Users can follow up on the article through the source’s website; can re-tweet the article, thereby spreading the story; and can even watch the development in real time on Twitter as other users tweet and re-tweet relevant and complementary information. Accessibility is no longer an issue; with Twitter, instantaneous publishing and collaboration can be done from both the web and from mobile devices across the world, anywhere that there is a signal.
By means of this account I would argue that yes, I have the ability to be more well-informed than people in my position ten years ago; that is, if I choose to take advantage of the sources that manage this information.