Unpack the dictionBy http://profile.typepad.com/1237764140s22740 // July 23, 2012 in Ad-Free Commercial Web, Twitter
It's a truism, of course: the words you deploy in a dialogue will predetermine your conclusion.
It's been a while, however, since I've seen this demonstrated as clearly in a non-political, public debate.
Watch the use of the word "free."
It's descriptive and it characterizes the absence of a monetary transaction between the Twitter user/content-creator and Twitter the provider/publisher. So on one level, it's fair to say Twitter is a "free" service.
But the word "free" as so used brings dividends that have not been earned.
"Free" is charged with connotations, all of them highly positive. To be free is to be self-directed and self-authenticating. "Free" is also a verb to express the application of power to liberate some thing, some capacity, or some person. These connotations do not fairly apply to an exchange which requires the user to expose herself to advertising.
Somewhat paradoxically, something given freely, or as part of a free exchange, also obligates the recipient, morally. One is called upon to reciprocate. This sense of the word free is, I think, apt in the Twitter debate. Because Twitter is "free," the implication goes, one is being a bad sport not to endure the advertising cheerfully.
There's a canny sleight-of-hand happening, too, to permit "free" to resonate in so many different directions at once. You know my predisposition on this topic. But when people say Twitter is a "free service," I think they are overreaching. If they were wanting to be precise, they would say, "Twitter is a service that is offered free of charge."
Photo by Bradley Stabler of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Cleveland / Flickr.