Let them eat tweet

Does Twitter dumb us down or simply reveal our innate dopiness? That’s the question that’s been flittering about my skullcage after reading Gideon Rachman’s column on the popular microblogging service in yesterday’s Financial Times. In reviewing John McCain’s vigorous tweet stream, Rachman observes that “some of the senator’s tweets make him sound like a peasant.” He quotes one: “Meeting with Dr Kissinger – the smartest man in the world.”

I have this picture in my mind of McCain and Kissinger sitting in comfortable armchairs in a well-appointed governmental office, a couple of aides hovering in the corners, and McCain is bent over his iPhone tapping out a tweet, a vague grin spread across his face. Kissinger isn’t smiling.

I don’t know whether Kissinger tweets. But I did discover two fake Henry Kissingers on Twitter: this one and this one. The former is tedious, but the latter’s pretty good: “Just had breakfast with former President Clinton. We both wore the same tie. It was very funny.”

In the wake of the Iranian election, says Rachman, Twitter’s “terseness and immediacy came into its own.” But he suspects that its role as a revolutionary tool is overrated: “The French revolutionaries somehow managed in 1789, without being able to tweet to each other: ‘Big demo planned outside Bastille.’ The Iranians of 2009 look likely to fail, in spite of the invention of Twitter in the intervening 220 years.”

Then again, if Twitter is turning the mighty into peasants, we may not even need revolutions any more. Obama should send Ahmadinejad an iPhone with the Tweetie app preinstalled. “Meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the smartest man in the world.” No tyrant could survive a tweet like that.

18 thoughts on “Let them eat tweet

  1. Seth Finkelstein

    “Meeting with Dr Kissinger – the smartest man in the world”

    The problem with such short texts is that one can’t tell if it was meant as subtle sarcasm or not. Hearing that phrase always reminds me of the joke:


    In the early ’70s, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Henry Kissinger, an

    old priest, and a hippie were on an airplane. Suddenly, the pilot

    radioed that the plane was going down, and for all of them to put on

    a emergency rig (a.k.a. “parachute” for the whuffos in the audience)

    and jump. Alas, there were only four rigs.

    The five of them discussed what they should do …

    Richard Nixon said: “I am the President of the United States. The

    nation and the world needs me. I must take a parachute and jump.”

    And out of the plane he jumped, and he floated safely to earth.

    Spiro Agnew said: “I am the Vice-President of the United States. If

    anything were to happen to President Nixon, I would have to take over

    his tremendous job. I must take a parachute and jump.” And Agnew

    floated safely to earth, too.

    Henry Kissinger said in his thick German accent: “I am the smartest

    man in the world. The world cannot live without me.” And he grabbed

    a rig and jumped.

    The old priest and the hippie were left. The priest said to the

    young man, “Son, God has been good to me all these years, and I am

    old. Please, take the last parachute rig and live well.”

    To which the hippie replied, “Don’t worry, Father. The smartest man

    in the world just took my backpack.”

  2. Nick Carr

    That’s a good joke, and if McCain was making a coy reference to it in his tweet I will happily eat this post. In fact, I’ll eat the whole damn blog.

  3. Linuxguru1968


    That’s a good permutation on the joke; however, the original involved nationalism and was much funnier. It went something like this.

    Setup: during WWII, a Frenchman, a German, a Mexican, a Russian and and white American were on a plane flying over neutral territory. Just as they are about to land, the pilot tells everyone that they have run out of fuel and if they don’t lighted up the plane it will crash and kill everyone.

    He ask for four volunteers to jump out of the plane. The Frenchman shouts, “Viva La France” and jumps. The German shouts, “Heil, Hitler” and jumps. The Russian shouts, “Workers of the World Unite!” and jumps.

    Punch Line: The American shouts,”Remember the Alamo!” and throws the Mexican out.

  4. Michael Turro

    If McCain was referencing that joke he should have included a link to it – that makes it a prime tweet.

    Ultimately there is an art to brevity and some people do it well and others…

  5. drootzler

    I think the original quote was that Kissinger was “the smartest guy around” or possibly just “the smartest around”. See for example a Google Books search on this.


    Most of the references to the use of the phrase by ‘journalists’ reference a book by Robert D. Schulzinger called Doctor of Diplomacy (1989). I checked the Time and Newsweek archives online but no dice.

    It seems likely that McCain is at least familiar with the idea that Kissinger is “the smartest” something – perhaps ‘guy around’ got hyped, bastardized or ridiculed into ‘man in the world’ at some point.

  6. Shaun

    But one of those freed was not, as I’d always thought, the Marquis de Sade. He’d been transferred a week earlier after whipping-up the crowds outside with a megaphone improvised from the funnel he used to shit. The medium, even then, being the message.

  7. Linuxguru1968


    >> 90% of everything is crap

    That’s formally known as Sturgeon’s Law formulated the late American literary figure Theodore Sturgeon. We should give the writer credit for his quote.

  8. yish


    Of course, you’re right. I was assuming the audience here were familiar, but I should have cited. And although Sturgeon didn’t have the benefit of enjoying web2.0, I hope he would have agreed with my slight addendum.

  9. Linuxguru1968


    It might be important note to those who don’t know the history of it, the context of his observation. Back in the 30s and 40s, the established literary community singled out and attacked science fiction as a legitimate genera.

    The haters pointed to a large amount of shallow space opera type of pulp literature as proof that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    Sturgeon was pointing out that this was true of almost any genera: westerns, detective, romance or horror. There is always a core of established works and serious dedicated writes that measure the social relevancy of a literary form.

    Since web2.0 has no such core of peer reviewed works or established content generators(writers), TS would probably have amended his own law as follows: “…except for web2.0 which is 100% crap.”

  10. pitsch

    without a doubt twitter is completly overrated. the ammount of usage does not correlate with its use value. from a media history perspective twitter has become the American way of SMS (or texting) probably ten years after Europe, built on top of the status updates of a pubsub instant messaging service (jabber). the idea behind twitter was to coordinate a fleet of bike messengers, which is actually still usually done via mobile phones, sms or 2way radio. the fuzzy use cases of twitter filled a void of narcissism and nosy curiosity in the global village, a microblog service for the lazyweb, to regain a lost presence, or become a star for 3 minutes, but paradoxically never achieving to reach “real time”. twitter is more a symptom of late internet culture rather than a sustainable form of digital publishing. its future is marketers speaking with marketers. besides probably still useful for home automation.

    btw, the number of original tweets from Iran is extremly low, minus the ones from Iranians tweeting from the exile, its probably more an observer effect in the echo chambers of western attention deficit disorder. the iranian election revolt insofar is very much evolving as a romantic image in the mirror of western media, which will be likely the main cause of its failure. compared to twitter the unique information value of iranian blogs is extremely underrated by the media industry. here is an example:

    Tasche in Theran

    — how could you ever get such depth and intensity in the telegram style of hasty twitter feeds? i twitter so i stop thinking.

  11. Linuxguru1968


    The threat of twitter to literacy in general is Siegler’s demonstrated by his aversion for large emails. Part of literacy is the ability to sit, read a large body of prose and make value judgments, among other things, about it. If we get a generation of people who think all important communications are contained in a few hundred character messages we are in trouble.

    About postcards, they’r fine but what about letters. Less than fifty years ago, the letter was the main method of exchanging information and was considered an art by itself. I can’t think of any great literary figures or scientists in the 19th century who used post cards!

  12. hossein

    Hi my lovely writer

    First of all let me say something about Iran: As I skimmed throughout the comment there was no one from Iran. But I have message from Iran: all what you imagine is absolutely wrong! Before explaining why, I want to say I have no affiliation to government and I was one of opponent marching in the streets but your hallucinations, I mean you Europeans and Americans, have nothing to do with what’s going in Iran. I am not here to state the truth but to mention something should be accused of this misunderstanding and one of the suspects, better to say criminals, in top of the list is certainly Twitter! Don’t get me wrong I am not insisting on conspiracy theories that Twitter owners are going to show distorted view of reality. But gentlemen we are behind the twitter not as a reporter but as a believer. What is going on in the heart of a nation as live as Iranian, as diverse as Iranian and as culturally rich as Iranian is something beyond just a few words in Twitter especially when made by a person as ignorant as John McCain!

    Nick I have a lot to say in this respect but here is not the place!

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