As Fall starts to hit NYC, it makes me think back on the events of 2011 and what would be the most remembered and talked about. I am always curious to see who TIME names as their Person of the Year. Whether I agree or disagree with the decision, I am fascinated by the spectrum of people they consider.
TIME’s Person of the Year is bestowed by the editors on the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.
I thought to myself who best embodied these qualities in 2011 and I realized the answer was quite simple: Twitter.
Now the idea of naming Twitter as TIME’s Person of the Year has come up before of course. And non-people have won the award in the past: The Computer (1982), The Whistleblowers (2002), The America Soldier (2003) and don’t forget, You (2006), so its not a breakthrough thought.
But I really believe 2011 is the year that has solidified Twitter’s true importance in our culture, and in my own life. Frank Rose in The Art of Immersion says, “Though Twitter provides endless opportunities to be frivolous, it also provides a strong impetus to convey information of real value.”
When I look back at all the big events of 2011 they are all intrinsically tied to Twitter. Whether it was the earthquake in Japan, the Royal wedding, Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, the recent earthquake or Hurricane Irene – Twitter was my source for the most up-to-date information. The one event that cemented Twitter’s importance for me was the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. When I heard President Obama was going to be making a speech vital to the nation, I was captivated. But I reached frustration very quickly watching TV news organizations because they couldn’t be specific. Being someone who has become accustomed to receiving information instantly, frankly it drove me nuts. So of course I turned to Twitter and that’s where I found my answer. And guess what? It was right on.
As a hard-core news and information junkie, I scour countless resources online since I don’t trust any one source. But that’s why Twitter has become such a vital resource for me and many others. The collective voices that share our messages/stories on Twitter also serve as a way to vet the information so its even more reliable than the respected news organizations, who may be driving their own agendas. Twitter thrives with like-minded communities spreading ideas, so it is intrinsically more real-time than any other information source out there.
But I think the true power of Twitter is that it empowers individuals that the online world has literally never heard from before. Twitter’s model is so simple and accessible to everyone, making it ultra mobile. The cost threshold for participation is relatively low, the service is free to use — all you need is access to the Internet or a mobile phone.
As of April 2011, Twitter had about 200 million registered users. By June 2011, the number of monthly Twitter users was up 82% since the beginning of the year and they are on track to add another 26 million active users this year, equaling the total added in 2006 -2009 combined.
People argue that there is a lot of useless chatter on Twitter. They’re right, and that won’t stop. But even that useless chatter is a way for us to share our personal stories with the rest of the world and may provide someone, somewhere with some worthwhile information. Twitter will only become more popular as a means of people sharing ideas, information and their stories with the rest of the world.