Twitter for Seniors

by francine Hardaway on May 22, 2011

This weekend I got an email from a mailing list I’m on that is made up of retired  old men who eat lunch together once a week and discuss politics, current affairs, and other important topics. They are, on average, very smart, pretty wealthy, and well-travelled. But social media has baffled them, and when one of the smartest sent an email deriding Twitter in the usual way: “who cares what Lady Gaga had for lunch,” I felt compelled to respond.

As someone your age who has been active on Twitter since late 2006, I can say with authority that Twitter is not what you think it is.

Twitter does not exist to tell you what someone you know had for lunch. Twitter is a handy way to break news, share knowledge, and refer people to longer form communications.

I do not follow Lady Gaga, nor does she follow me. However, 6800 people DO follow me, and they don’t want to know what I had for lunch. What they want to know is some variant of:

1) what has she read that I’d like to read, or

2) how does she feel about a certain event, or

3) what is her response to a common situation

4) When she comes to  NYC, where should we meet.

As an example, I am going to attach a screenshot of my own recent tweetstream.  This was me Friday, livestreaming from the Pitch Day for AZDisruptors, a new incubator in Scottsdale for tech companies. I was trying to tell people who weren’t there what kind of  company pitches I was seeing:

If you couldn’t make it to the event, but wanted to know what was happening, you could have followed me, and also everyone else tweeting with the hashtag #AZDisrupt. A hashtag is a convenient way to extract valuable information on a certain subject from the stream that floats by on Twitter. For example, if you were, indeed, interested in what people were thinking about lunch, you might do a twitter search for the hashtag #lunch.

At the bottom of the stream, you will see three tweets with green in the upper left hand corner.  Those are someone else’s tweets that I thought were worth sharing. Henry Blodget, who was a banker during Web 1.0 and was disgraced, is the founder of a tech publication called “Silicon Alley Insider,” and his interview with Steve Blank is of interest to my friends.  They might not have seen it, so i “retweeted” it into my stream. That amplified it and sent it to a group of people who may not follow Henry Blodget.


And here’s a little marketing FastCompany did yesterday for an article of mine:



Among the people I do follow:

Paul Kedrosky (economist)

Barry Rithotz (stock market guy and founder of The Big Picture blog, to which John Mauldin and others post)

Patrick LaForge, the managing editor of the New York Times, who posts breaking news

Andy Carvin from NPR who curates news from the Arab spring because he follows people in the Middle East and re-tweets them (which was how I followed Egypt and am now following Syria)

@shakirhusain, a friend who owns a software company in Pakistan and leads me to information about Pakistanis’ opinion of the US

@MayoClinic, which tweets high quality medical news

@kevinMD, a doctor blogger who talks about health care poliicy

–a raft of tech journalists

–friends in NYC who I want to see when I arrive next week and with whom I am making lunch plans on Twitter (you know who you are)

@whymommy, a planetary scientist who has inflammatory breast cancer and blogs about how hard it is to be a mother, a cancer survivor, and a scientist.

And about 1600 other intelligent well-informed souls who share information with me. Many of these people I “met” on Twitter, which has enlarged my knowledge base exponentially. I find Twitter to be a source of breaking news (how I learned about the earthquake in Japan), a community I can call upon in times of need (does anyone know how to spin up a server on Amazon’s cloud), a group of ad hoc reviewers (who has tried the new Thai restaurant in Scottsdale), and a source of ideas:


There is an entire group on Twitter who tweet about the stock market and have lots of information. A friend of mine named Howard Llndzon started a company called StockTwits. to aggregate the collective wisdom of all their twitter feeds. They use this information to trade more intelligently. It’s the wisdom of the crowd, or crowd sourcing. All tweets about stocks are tagged $$: ex AAPL$$

This allows you to pull Apple news out of Twitter, or new about any other stock.


Notice that the tweets contain links. The links are where the real information is, but you would never find it without the tweet that sends you there.


Now, could I follow Lady Gaga? Of course. I do follow Ashton Kucher, for instance. But most of what I see in my “tweetstream” comes from journalists like Anderson Cooper or Dylan Ratigan or Andrew Ross Sorkin, friends, experts, and the occasional politician. I follow @KarlRove. At important times, I may include more politicians temporarily, so I can find out what’s going on in Congress, because they all tweet from the floor of the House and Senate. Barack Obama does not write or send his own tweets,  his staff does, and they are ways of communicating what he is doing or going to do, so the tweets will tell you if there’s a major speech coming, or a trip to see victims of a disaster.  These are not terribly interesting to me, but I think they are a way of ensuring I don’t miss out.


I have two other Twitter accounts besides my main account, @hardaway. One is @azentrepreneurs, and I use it to follow local news, local entrepreneurs, and local events pertaining to entrepreneurs. It’s pretty “pure” of anything else. And I have one called @ushealthcrisis which follows only health care providers and policy experts. From that account I tweet health care information.


This is probably far more than you wanted to know, but far less than you need to know if you want to be an informed citizen, because more and more news and information passes through Twitter. I suggest you start by opening an account at and picking your three favorite journalists, financial gurus, or health care experts.  Use the search function to find them. Then follow them. You will be surprised at what you have been missing. Feel free to follow me, but my stream is very noisy because I use Twitter for so many things.


But the cool thing about Twitter is that you never *have* to go there or read anything. It’s a global river of news that floats by endlessly, and you have the option to stick your toe in every now and then, or to wade in neck deep as I have done:-)





{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon May 23, 2011 at 2:23 am

Unfortunately it’s as easy to ‘break wind’ on Twitter, as well as ‘break news,’ as easy to meet the village idiot as well as the eminence grise.

Stock Tips May 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I absolutely adore reading your blog posts, the variety of writing is smashing.This blog as usual was 

educational, I have had to bookmark your site and subscribe to your feed in ifeed. Your theme looks 

lovely.Thanks for sharing.
Stock Tips

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