Welcome To The Twitterverse NPR's social media strategist, Andy Carvin, spends most of his time working behind the scenes, but once a month or so, he finds his way on air to talk about Internet culture. For Weekend Edition, he found himself talking about technology — and Twitter in particular — to a most unlikely person.
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Welcome To The Twitterverse

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Welcome To The Twitterverse

Welcome To The Twitterverse

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: We're going to talk about technophobia now...

(Soundbite of beeps)

SIMON: ...in an On the Couch segment, a chance for people with different interests and experience to bounce ideas off of each other. You know, there are so many ways to talk to each other these days - telephone, e-mail, friending. Of course there's still talking to each other face to face. There's this thing called tweeting - you've probably heard about it; someone's mentioned it in your presence.

You know, during President Obama's speech to Congress Tuesday night, members of Congress and senators could be observed thumbing tweets and text messages to their constituents, colleagues, people who shared the experience with them. Andy Carvin is our go-to guy for social media here at NPR. Andy, thanks for being with us.

ANDY CARVIN: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And we're going to use this word a lot. Remind us what a tweet is.

CARVIN: A tweet is a kind of message that you send over an online community called Twitter. The idea behind Twitter is it allows you to send messages via instant messaging, text messaging, over the Web - all sorts of different ways of doing it. But you can send them to large groups of people.

So when you send a tweet, you're sending it to a variety of people that have decided to subscribe to your tweets. And so it might just be a couple of people if you've got a small number of friends on it. But if you're someone famous, it's possible you might have hundreds of thousands of people following you on Twitter and receiving your tweets.

SIMON: Well, so joining us on the couch, our electronic couch now, is I think someone completely unexpected in this context. Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: This is Dan Schorr, of course. So do you tweet? Are you familiar with this technology?

SCHORR: I'm becoming familiar with it even as I listen to it now. No, it really is another generation. I'm agape as I learn how people can communicate with people, communicate to the outside world. It somehow reminds me - I want to look backward - of something in ancient Greece, the agoras, the marketplace.

You come out and you say things into the marketplace and everybody can hear. And every person now seems to be a network.

SIMON: We should explain. You didn't cover the old marketplace. This is something you've read in history, right?

SCHORR: I read it in history, yes. It was a little earlier.

SIMON: How did you report your first news story? You were like 12 or 13.

SCHORR: I reported my first news story - first I reported on a telephone, when somebody committed suicide by jumping off the roof, landing just in front of my window. And I got a lot of reports from police and so on and telephoned my local newspaper, the Bronxville News. That was my original way of making a career out of journalism. Since then I've gone into newspapers and from newspapers into radio, into television, and back again to radio. And only now beginning, when I thought we had reached the ultimate at some point, where we had television and digital television, and now I find out, somewhat, I must say, to my distress, that that's not the end of the road. That's the beginning of the road.

SIMON: Listen, Dan, we're going to tweet. Can I join you? I'm going to... People hear me sliding over...

(Soundbite of chair moving)

SIMON: ...to join you at your microphone. And you know, just before we began this segment here, I sent out a tweet saying Andy Carvin and I are in the studio to talk technophobia with Dan Schorr. And by the way, we've already got some -yup. We've already gotten responses. The Twitterverse is going to love this.

I assume you'll be showing Mr. Schorr off your Twitter stream. Hi, Dan, I'm a big fan of yours. That's from surlyshirley(ph).

SCHORR: Thank you.

SIMON: So Andy, you're going to talk us through a tweet or two, right?

CARVIN: Right. Well, when you do it over the Web...

SIMON: Did you just send me a message, by the way?

CARVIN: I actually just did. I couldn't resist.

SIMON: Are you and Mr. Schorr enjoying your Twitter tour?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CARVIN: All right. I just wanted to give some words of encouragement.

SIMON: Couldn't just put that over the table. Okay.

CARVIN: Well, you are five feet away from me, so...

SIMON: Yeah, okay. And I should explain: I have - NPRScottSimon - I have - all one word - I have a Twitter account and hear from lots of people, and glad to write back.

CARVIN: Well, the beauty of Twitter and tools like it is that you can say whatever you want. It really does level the playing field in terms of allowing anyone who has access to participate and control whatever it is they're going to say. So you're just as likely to meet people who are, you know, nurses and doctors and teachers on Twitter as you are going to meet politicians and famous actors.

SIMON: All right. We're going to - let's see, I'm going to say - what do you want to know from people, Dan? Dan Schorr asks...

SCHORR: Dan Schorr asks, well, what I want...

SIMON: In Twitter you're limited to 140 characters.

SCHORR: Okay. What I really want to know is people who do this tweeting, why do you do it? If you're, for example, listening to the president make a speech, why would you in the middle of that be sending messages out of the room where you are? Is it just that you really don't want to be penned in there?

SIMON: Well, all right. I just shortened that to why do you tweet, okay?


SIMON: While we wait for some responses - Andy, there are all kinds of celebrities on Twitter, right?

CARVIN: Yeah. In fact, one of them actually took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us a little while ago. He's got around 100,000 people following him, making him one of the biggest people on Twitter. And it's actor Rainn Wilson of "The Office," who plays the character Dwight.

Mr. RAINN WILSON (Actor): It's really cool. You know, you're on a set of a television show and you know that you have millions of viewers and, you know, you run into people and they say they really enjoy the show, and that's all really cool. But to be able to just kind of, like, send out little bursts of thoughts or ideas or humor or a band I might like or my view of the world, and to have that immediate kind of audience interaction and reaction is really cool. 'Cause you don't really get that so much kind of cooped up in a studio in the middle of the San Fernando Valley shooting "The Office" five days a week.

SIMON: That's actor Rainn Wilson of "The Office," who took time out of filming on the set of "The Office" to share his thoughts with us. Dan, before we check responses to your question, I want to give you some questions, and you also, Andy, that some people have tweeted in to us.


SIMON: Okay? ETB(ph) writes: How does he - this must be you, Andy - suggest helping people get over the fear of tools to realize that social media is really about socializing?

CARVIN: I always get a little nervous when you talk about people trying to convert people to technology, because it suggests that you're forcing people to do something they may not be ready for or something they may not want to do.

For me, whenever I've worked with people who have been nervous about technology, I always start by asking them: what is it they're most passionate about? Are they most passionate about their family? Are they most passionate about where they went to school and the community they lived in? Is it a certain hobby? And then I usually spend some time with them exploring that particular topic on the Internet.

And it's always amazing watching people connect when they have that aha moment. It's not about technology; it's about the stuff that makes me me, and how I want to project myself with the rest of the world and interact with it.

SIMON: Dan, one for you. A woman who calls herself EvaCatHerder says: Given Dan Schorr's long history with the evolution of news media, what does he think we are losing in Web-based media, or gaining?

SCHORR: That's very good. I'm glad to have that question. What we're losing is editing. I grew up and nothing could be communicated to the outside world that didn't go through an edit to make sure you had your facts right, spelling right, and so on. Now every person is his or her own publisher or her own editor or her own reporter, and the world is full of people who are sending out what they consider to be news. It may be, it may not be, it may be made up, and it doesn't matter anymore.

That to me is the worst part of it. The discipline that should go with being able to communicate is gone.

SIMON: What about gaining? EvaCatHerder wants to say, what are we gaining with this new technology too?

SCHORR: I don't know. Maybe we're gaining people who live with neurosis and find that if they can express themselves to the world, it doesn't feel so bad when they go to bed. I don't know. It must serve some useful purpose, but I'm looking for it.

SIMON: Andy?

CARVIN: One thing I've noticed on Twitter and Facebook and some other communities is when people get really engaged in a breaking news event, they start asking tough questions. So for example, when the riots were taking place in Greece or during the attacks in Mumbai, occasionally you would see stories circulating on the Internet, or even on air, that weren't necessarily true, but because it was happening so fast it was hard to keep up with it.

And then people on Twitter and Facebook started asking, are you really sure about that? Did you see this yourself? Did you get this from a news source? Did you get this from a blog? And so in a way a system of checks and balances kicks into high gear with people who are just innately very skeptical, wanting to get to the heart of a matter. And sometimes stories actually get debunked that way.

SIMON: Dan, shall we check some of what's come in...


SIMON: ...to your question? Let's take a look. Okay. Hmm - replies. Shawn Levy(ph) says - and I'm making no effort to edit this in advance: It's a way to blab about obscure passions like, say, European soccer with folks not nearby; lets off verbal steam too.

C-Kuns(ph) says, Twitter is the new watercooler, where you read the things you have to know but wouldn't find out about otherwise.

PennyD(ph) says, I tweet to share info, learn new things, important to follow responsibly. As you said, Dan, important to follow responsibly.

Matt says, It's human nature. It's human nature to want to share ideas. Twitter let's you do so in near real time. Brevity prevents overwhelming.

Oh, Sarahpalm(ph), all one word, says, No man is an island. Oh, that's a good one.

Stevebest(ph) says, Twitter because I can talk to new people. Yesterday I had a dialogue with Senator John Ensign. How cool was that?

Now, let me ask you a question. And we don't know that it wasn't Senator Ensign, but there are some people of note who have, who hire people to answer their tweets, right?

CARVIN: Definitely. I remember watching Senator John Edwards once as he was getting ready to start a debate, and he was on the TV, his hands were on the podium and at that very moment I received a tweet from him. Now, the Twitter community had some laughs about that. And I noticed after that a number of his tweets would be signed, From a member of Senator Edwards' staff.

And so there are definitely more politicians than ever who are using these tools. But if they get caught posting something and it's not actually them, and they're not transparent about it, often the community will push back.

SIMON: Yeah. I don't mind saying - in fact, I want to say that I respond to my own tweets and Facebook inquiries. I cannot begin to respond to every one. But when you get one from me, it's authentic.

CARVIN: And I've seen you do it, so I know it's actually you.

SIMON: And because believe you me, we couldn't hire people to write that kind of nonsense. So...

CARVIN: I on the other hand am actually fake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I'm going to take one more look at here. Let me see. Welaura(ph) says, Oh, and it gives me the convincing illusion that I have an actual life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I tweet because I'm bored with my schoolwork. That's from Mcassidy(ph). This is Manuel194(ph): Because in an individualistic society we all want to have our personal media channel, instead of just listening to NPR.

Dan, here's someone who says something that I think strikes off what you were saying: I tweet for the same reason I read: to know I'm not alone.

SCHORR: Yes, I think that's right. I think we're beginning now to develop a philosophy that goes with all the tweeting, all the Facebooks, and so on. I think it's beginning to settle itself in so that people accept it as an institution. They're willing to make friendships with people they have not seen and never will see, and somehow the world changes.

SIMON: Hmm. I've just got to - and these are piling up so fast, I just can't get to all of them. I want to share two more. Kateandlaurel(ph) says, With friends it's a way to have an ongoing conversation over a course of the day. With public people to hear ideas, news, and respond.

Here's my favorite so far. Matt says, No offense, but that's kind of a dumb question. Thank you, Matt. Rephrase as: Why do you communicate at all? It's just one more method of doing so.

CARVIN: I think that pretty much nails it.

SIMON: Yeah. Dan, you got questions for Andy?

SCHORR: Yes, how do I do it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CARVIN: Well, if you'd like, I'd be...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CARVIN: I would be honored to set you up with a Twitter account, if you're ready to take the plunge.

SCHORR: All right. I'm a little bit nervous about it. You know, I'm not sure if I'll measure up to it. But I'm ready.

CARVIN: Don't worry. They'll be gentle, I'm sure.

SIMON: Gosh. Well, it's been wonderful talking to both of you. Andy Carvin, who is our social media swami at NPR; and the relentlessly contemporary Dan Schorr. By the way, you can reach us - NPRscottsimon, all one word, on my Twitter account.

CARVIN: I'm ACarvin, A-C-A-R-V-I-N.

SIMON: And Dan, well...

CARVIN: We'll work that out.

SCHORR: Yeah. I have to get my account yet.

SIMON: Now, since recording this interview, in fact we've opened a Twitter account for Dan Schorr, and he's very excited about entering the Twittersphere. He hopes to play an active part in this new social networking era. But remember, Dan is very busy analyzing the news. So in fact we're going to have a couple of staff helping him respond to some of your tweets. If former Senator John Edwards had help, Dan can too.

WEEKEND EDITION blogger Jacob Soboroff has showcased all of WEEKEND EDITION's social media tools along with the video of Dan and I tweeting. You can find it on our blog at NPR.org. Also, while you're there, please tell us about maybe your technophobic parents or grandparents or children.

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