Short and Tweet, but to what end?

Just as Sports Illustrated’s latest Twitter 100 list was released at the end of last week, semi-retired Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan tells Sports Business Daily in an exit interview of sorts that:

“The Twitter world has perverted any concept of perspective.”

While it may be easy to accuse Ryan of having a “Get Off My Lawn” attitude, read the rest of his response to a question by Joe Perez about his concerns for his industry:

“When everything is judged on pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, moment-by-moment, that eliminates the sense of perspective and it’s extremely dangerous. It’s wrong. That’s where we are and who’s going to stop it? The idea of people who are allowed to let things simmer and play out, you can’t let things play out, you have to have an instant play-by-play of everything. That’s not the way sports should be. And certain sports are hurt more than others. When they start looking at baseball games the way they do football games, that’s a problem. Baseball needs time to play out. When that’s not allowed, it’s bad. The nature of the dialogue, the whole talk-show thing, instant analysis and the fact that in the talk-show sense, it is better to be negative then to be positive, is a problem. I don’t see it getting any better.”

Now Ryan’s been on a lot of sports talk programs over the years — ESPN’s “Around the Horn” and “Sports Reporters,” most notably — and he’s never been shy about offering instant analysis and off-the-cuff thoughts about a fresh sports controversy.

Television and radio mediums have long been repositories for this kind of fleeting, throwaway “discourse,” if that’s the proper word, that have made so much sports talk unwatchable and unlistenable (with a few exceptions).

(Disclaimer: Ryan is a long-time columnist at Basketball Times, where I also have written for the past 20 years. I’ve met him and spoke with him only once, during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and have long admired his work.)

But for as much as I love the immediacy of Twitter (and I was thrilled to make SI’s Top 100 list a year ago), I have some of the same worries about the cumulative effects of the 24-7 impulse to say something authoritative, profound, clever and entertaining all at once.

And not just to get or stay on a list.

When I watch a game, almost any game, I scroll through my Twitter timeline and it overflows with snark and negativity more than anything else. That’s just human nature, and Lord knows I’m guilty of contributing to the river of schlock.

(When I do this, I truly hang my head in shame, mindful of what the magnificent Dorothy Parker — no relation, alas — had to say about the art of being funny:

“There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”)

But Ryan says we’ve also gone from looking at sports in terms of who wins and loses, and how teams move on to the next game, to routinely assigning blame. This is a considerable distinction.

He understands that this instinct also is “natural,” and now it’s so much easier for everyone to chime in via social media. Maybe it’s been this way all along and I’m just noticing it, or trying to atone for my digital sins.

I’m not trying to blame the messenger, because Twitter has been beneficial for me in so many ways. It’s become a personal wire service and a way to stay immediately connected to news and issues that mean the most to me.

It’s not sufficient to just turn it off entirely in this business. But after five years on Twitter — and more than 10,000 Tweets! — regulating the fire hose has become a constant challenge.

New media types might rush to label Ryan a “curmudgeon,” but as soon as I sent out the SBD link yesterday it got some “old school” praise — on Twitter — from ESPN columnist J.A. Adande, who’s on the new SI Twitter list and someone I recommend following. A few sports columnists also worthy of the Ryan tradition on that list include Bruce Arthur of the National Post in Canada and Pat Forde and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports.

There are others, especially Bill Simmons, who doesn’t suit my taste. But that’s the beauty of a list like this, as subjective as it is. Mix in athletes and other sports personalities with the media types and there’s something there for everyone to sample.

If you want to stick with the old school, Ryan’s serving up a collection of his best columns in a new-fangled way, via Amazon Kindle.

How’d I find that out? On Twitter, of course.

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