Sunday, March 15, 2009

to tweet, or not to tweet? that is the question...

When I first heard about the microblogging platform Twitter --which enables users to publish 140-character-long messages via the web and mobile phones-- I thought it was silly. Or rather, the uses to which it was being put were silly: people announcing that they’d just woken up or what they’d had for breakfast. I couldn’t have cared less. As far as I was concerned it was a perfect application for news programs such as Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on MSNBC but had little real-world application for individuals. But then I should confess that when I first started hearing about blogs and podcasts, I didn’t fully comprehend their impact either. 

The heart of Twitter of course is the never-ending stream of consciousness manifest in the short text messages known as “tweets”. They are fun to watch, neat to read, and occasionally worthy of a response. Some of my favorite tweets are the ones that are short, sweet, and to the point. Like, “crash landing my bi-plane”, “dropping my first hit”, or “bleeding out my eyeballs”. It’s Twitter for crying out loud! Short and sweet is the name of the game!  To start with, I love Twitter. I am on there all the time and have a blast updating, meeting people, replying, etc. However, this is not to say that I don’t have some things to criticize about Twitter.

However, because a lot of these messages are the types of things you usually speak to people you’re close to, people you’re less close to start to feel like they’re in your close group. You can confuse a marker of intimacy with the actual status of the relationship. On your point about false sense of intimacy though, I don’t know if that’s really qualifiable as “false”, because my perception of social intimacy is entirely relative. I may feel (and truly believe) I am close to you and you may feel (and truly believe) that we are not close at all—Twitter seems to allow us both to live that reality. I think that’s a really fascinating aspect to how it mediate interactions/discourse. 

And although that occurs occasionally in real life, I think Twitter exacerbates that disconnect because it lacks a lot of the physical social contexts that we have in the physical world. Additionally, there tends to be so much said that what is truly of substance can be hard to track down. I can't imagine how people who are following 250 people and more are able to process all the data streaming in. Twitter, like almost all Web 2.0, is being voraciously used and consumed before society can really examine the long-term effects it will have on our psyche, and I’ll be curious with how humanity continues to evolve in answering this all-important question: What are you doing, and why should I care?

“A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing than he needs”
~Mark Twain

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