It seems to me that Twitter does three things really well.
- In normal times (i.e., not during a convention) it points you to other media and allows the Twitterer to promote him or herself in a gentle way: "Go read my blog post! My article! This link!"
- In normal times, it conveys external news along with approval/disapproval/excitement about something that's currently happening: "Go read this article! Can you believe that a politician said this?"
- In conference times, it's a way of collectively live-blogging a session that conveys some of the excitement and ideas of the session.
- Did the preponderance of tweets from digital humanities sessions create a sense that those were more exciting sessions that the ones that didn't get covered?
- Did the fact that the tweeted sessions seemed to dominate the news coverage skew the sense of what was happening elsewhere at the convention?
- Are some sessions just more tweetable than others, or do people at the untweeted sessions need to get with the program and (there are hints of this among the comments) be less stodgy?
- Alternately, you know those bumper stickers that say "Hang up and drive"? There are some comments that suggest that tweeters put the computer away and just listen.
- Finally (and this is a contentious one), does the tweeted/nontweeted session divide create another category of insiders and outsiders?
On the other hand, in some sessions, the papers were so amazing and complex (yet eminently listenable) that I could barely take adequate notes on them; a tweet couldn't possibly have done them justice. This is not to say that papers that can be tweeted are too simple; I'm just agreeing with Roxie's typist's point:"Still, I admit to thinking that some of what is untweeted is really untweetable -- Certain kinds of presentations, certain modes of argument simply don't lend themselves to that kind of quick and dirty distillation, and I don't think that's bad." Sometimes, you're just sitting there in an intellectually stimulating stream of good ideas, and you just have to let your mind go with them.
So: Twitter at MLA-- yea or nay? It depends. It was great for what it did, but I don't think we can ignore the reservations that Roxie's World has specified, and I don't think the answer is necessarily "more Twitter for all!" To pull out one of my hoary old blog mantras, one technology or medium isn't going to work for everything, and expecting it to be useful in all situations (like those of the complex listen-only papers) is to strain it beyond what it can usefully do.
And anyway, you know that someone will sooner or later tweet a message to announce where the full version of those listen-only papers has been published. That's the power of Twitter.