Twitter's Office Fire-Safety Poster Is Perfect

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 9 2014 1:35 PM

Twitter's Office Fire-Safety Poster Is Perfect

"In case of fire, exit building before tweeting about it."

Vivian Schiller, the former NPR chief and top digital officer for NBC News, announced in October that she'd be joining Twitter as its "head of news." Wednesday was her first day at the office, and she was pleased to note that her co-workers appear to have their priorities in order:

As amusingly obvious as the poster's message might sound, it's almost certain that at least someone in the office would disobey it if a fire did break out. In fact, tweeting about emergencies and disasters in real time has been critical to Twitter's evolution almost from the beginning. As Nick Bilton recounted in Hatching Twitter, his book about the social network's origins, a minor Bay Area earthquake in Twitter's first months was actually a seminal moment in the company's understanding of how people might use it in the years to come:

It was just after eight o'clock one night in late August 2006 when [Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's] phone vibrated on his office desk. He reached over and saw a text message from Twitter, sent by [fellow co-founder Ev Williams], and started to read, "Did anyone just feel that eart—" but before he came to the end of the message, he felt his chair shake a little. ...
For Ev it was another clue in a theory he was developing about Twitter's role as a way to share news, not just status—Twitter as a communication network, not just a social network.

The same lesson hit home for the wider American public five years later, when people in the Washington, D.C. area were tweeting about a rare 5.8 earthquake in Virginia several seconds before the same quake was felt across New York and other points north. Twitter was so proud of this that it made an advertisement about it.

Twitter: Faster than earthquakes, sure, but perhaps not the best use of time in case of a fire.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough, So They Added Self-Immolation

Why Hillary Clinton and Other Democrats Are Shrewd to Frame All Issues As “Women’s Issues”

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.