Many, if not most, in my generation will remember the “Magic 8 Ball.” Some probably even had one. I never did, though I played with them at friends’ houses (and truthfully, never got that into it so seeing one “abroad” was plenty).
The concept was simple: ask the 8 Ball any question, turn it over, and your answer appeared in the window at the bottom of the ball, courtesy of a 20-sided “answer die,” a ball of liquid, and the mystical, all-seeing properties of the miraculous plastic sphere.
Something like that, anyway.
In my case, the ball never gave very satisfying answers. Apparently my questions were hazy and my future unusually difficult to scry. “Ask again later,” the ball says. “Cannot predict now.” It didn’t matter what I asked. The 8 Ball did not know.
A generation later, I still have questions, many more important than before. What is the word for “cat” in Portuguese? Do camellias bloom in November or December in Japan? How many writers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? (For the record, the answer is “none.” We’re too busy Tweeting to notice the lights are out.)
Enter The Twitter.
Now, I’m not saying Twitter is always a consistent or reliable source of information. In fact, I can guarantee the opposite. When it comes to information, Twitter is every bit as reliable as the Magic 8 Ball of my youth (though infinintely more entertaining).
But, like the 8 Ball, Twitter gets the answers right sometimes, and surprisingly often if you know what and when and where to ask. Twitter’s writing community is strong and active, with a wealth of information in its collective (if slightly unstable) mind. Writers are generally more than glad to share. Let’s face it – if I just spent three hours researching the type of glass available in 5th century China (for a one-paragraph description that didn’t make it into the final draft) I probably have some obscure information to share. If I did my research well (and I did), there’s no reason for someone to have to repeat it.
And it’s not only obscure information people need. Consider the source, without question, but asking Twitter often brings surprisingly accurate results with very fast turnaround. Knowing how to hashtag the question helps, but building a network of followers gives access to a startlingly wide web of knowledge.
It also offers answers that would make the 8 Ball proud.
Entertaining, often helpful, good at a party and occasionally even a source of correct information. Yep, Twitter is the new Magic 8 Ball. All the cool kids have one. Do you?
Hop into the comments and toss out a Twitter handle if you have one. I’ll see you at the 8 Ball!