Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Up The Twitter, Part 2

Having been befriended in the night by Norse blog-goddess Annie Rhiannon, I have started thinking about Twitter again.

Naturally I can't just muck about on Twitter like everyone else, oh no. I have to understand what's so important about it.

I have to develop a Theory.

Is it fragmenting our linear sense of time, by showing what hundreds of different people are doing at the same moment? Is it shattering our sense of direction and meaning and purpose into kaleidoscopic shards of inconsequential thoughts and actions? Is it like blogging for ADHD sufferers? Can anyone communicate anything meaningful in 140 characters or fewer? If so, will it give rise to any new literary formats? Is it just a bunch of self-regarding old arse?

Your views would be much appreciated. In the meantime I am going to have a nice cup of tea.

UPDATE: I'm now feeling very smug, because just a few hours and ten comments later, and thanks in no small part to the contributions of Valerie and Sean, I reckon I've finally understood what Twitter is all about!

Basically it all harks back to what Sherry Turkle was saying in this article from the New Scientist in September last year - that people are becoming so used to having a social network on the internet that their feelings and experiences no longer seem real to them unless they share them online. So essentially people like typing what they're thinking or doing into Twitter because it makes it seem more real.

I suppose it is a sort of new version of taking a photograph, or capturing something on video.

Anyway, that theory makes a lot of sense to me, because most of the people on Twitter don't seem like idiots, but rather they seem to be very webby, connected people who are used to being online all the time. Bingo.

Thanks to everyone who suggested things in the comments - you have no idea how happy it has made me to be able to solve a problem with the help of disembodied blog-friends in Reykjavik, London, Bristol, Bangkok and San Diego. Ahhh, it's enough to restore your faith in the internet, isn't it?

Dear lord, I think the isolation is getting to me.



GreatSheElephant said...

I think it's for people who are only interested in actions and not ideas. The name might be a clue too.

Annie Rhiannon said...

I must point out that I only signed up because the blog award people told me to. Apparently we're going to use it on Saturday so that as soon as someone trips over their own shoelaces everyone who wasn't able to make it to the event will know about it.

I lost my twitter virginity last night. I don't think I was particularly good at it, and kept trying to have conversations with other people. It doesn't work like that of course, because everybody can see what you wrote but not everybody can see what it's in response to. So basically you can't have a chat, you just have to witter on inanely about yourself.

It's like blogging without the comments, or commenting without the blogs.

Spinsterella said...

I think it's complete bollocks and very boring.

The opposite of blogging in fact.

Whereas blogging, as you summarised so well yourself, is a public conversation, on Twitter everyone completely ignores one another.

Although, if you think about it, Twitter is more representative of how we urban-dwellers behave...

Aarrrgh - now I'M thinking about it too deeply!

patroclus said...

GSE: What gets me about Twitter is that everyone seems to agree that it's 'cool' and even 'addictive', but no one seems to know why. There are some fine minds on there, so I imagine that at least some of its users are interested in ideas as well as actions.

Maybe it's like that episode of Star Trek TNG where Riker brings that game back from the holiday planet, and the whole human fabric of the ship breaks down because everyone is too busy playing it to bother doing anything else.

Although that's probably more like World of Warcraft.

Annie: 'It's like commenting without the blogs' is as good an analogy as I've seen yet. Keep them coming, I like analogies.

Spin: Yes, sorry about that. Ever since I did that Popular Culture MA, I've been cursed with the need to understand what every tiny thing we do really means. It's very tiring. So I thought I'd outsource some of the brain-work, in a sort of distributed processing scenario reminiscent of scientific grid computing ARGH MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP.

Valerie said...

I twittered about Twitter on Twitter, but realized I took what is clearly a psychological rather than a sociological approach to your question.

I can come up with far too many reasonable-sounding explanations for the phenomenon...

Interestingly, at the Net@EDU conference (for higher ed network technology administrators, which is what I am, I guess) they talked about the growing desire amongst faculty and students for "presence" information. About students using their cell phones, Twitter, MySpace, any technology they can get their hands on to tell the world (1) where they are and (2) whether or not they're connected (usually yes). That "presence" information is becoming more important to people than contact. That people are phoning each other to say, "I'm in the Alibi bar" and then HANGING UP with no expectation that anyone is going to meet them there.

This really weirds me out. I need to think about it a while.

Meantime, I'm at my breakfast table, staring a the rain. In case you wondered.

Tim Footman said...

I think each individual twitter post is insignificant, but when considered en masse, they provide a snapshot of humanity (well, a self-selected segment of it).

So it's like Mass Observation.

Or, to carry the TNG analogies on a little further, The Borg.

Valerie said...

Sorry, and I meant the "presence" information was more important than content, not contact. Though maybe that's true too, since "presence" information, by nature, is a bulletin to the world rather than a conversation.


Sean McManus said...

Twitter seems like blogging for people who can't be bothered to read or write anything more than a text message.

Some people on there write some funny and clever observations and choose their 140 characters wisely. And it's fascinating having a cross-section of modern life so easily digestible.

But most of the entries are pointless. One of the people currently on the homepage has an entry that simply says 'just felt an earthquake'. Huh? That's a headline. Not a whole piece of content. All we learned is that the earth did something to the body of some bloke we've never heard of. Who cares?

patroclus said...

Right, you see, I think that Sean and Valerie together have a point. I was reading an article in the New Scientist not long ago, which said that people no longer feel 'alive' unless they are sharing their feelings and experiences with their online social network.

So the bloke with the earthquake maybe subconsciously felt that his experience wasn't 'real' unless he published it on the internet. And Twitter is therefore a good way to make small moments and emotions 'real' to people who have become used to being plugged into the machine at all times.

Billy said...

One day I'll understand Twitter. It's like mini-blogging, or maybe fun-sized blogging, like those rather unsatisfying fun-sized chocolate bars.

Betty said...

It's strange to think that only a few generations ago people rarely expressed their opinions or feelings, and it was considered bad form to do so.

Now, even the most insignificant thought has to be put down on record. In two hundred years' time historians will be accessing loads of records of people from phone texts and Twitter saying "I'm in River Island" or "ooh, isn't powdered mustard brilliant?" in an attempt to see what made people tick at the beginning of the 21st century.

patroclus said...

Billy: I can't tell you how much I like the phrase 'fun-sized blogging'. That's brilliant!

Betty (and also Tim): Yes, it is indeed like Mass Observation gone truly mass. When you think that the entire written legacy of the Picts* amounts to less than one page of the Twitter public timeline, then you start to understand what a horrendous job it will be (or indeed, already is) for sociologists and anthropologists to sift through all the written junk we're creating now, to try to establish any kind of objective view of what 'society' might be like these days.

It's like that time I was under the influence of some happy-making narcotic, and I thought I could hear what everyone in the world was saying. That was just a hallucination. Now it's actually possible. Frightening.

* The Picts! I haven't thought properly about them for ages!

belladona said...

Isolated? Nothing for it but to put on a big furry coat and pretend to be Howard. With any luck you might happen across a Gary Numan-loving polar bear.

realdoc said...

I can never think of anything to say on twitter so generally I just say... I am on twitter and then immediately feel like a twat. That's me, a twitter twat.

Tim Footman said...

I remember a history lesson, having to do a big map of Europe at the time of the Roman Empire, marking how the various barbarian peoples moved about. But I can only recall two details. One was that the Lombards went from Poland to Italy. The other was that the Picts just stayed put in Scotland, shouting "gae boil ye heed" at the Romans.

Sylvia said...

At your recommendation, I had a look at twitter and was very confused. Was it just me?

Spinsterella said...

I was very confused by Twitter at first.

Now my comments (twitters?) don't appear in the public thingey - I think it's because I don't have a wee picture maybe?

Hooray for the Picts! P, you could make a new blog post about them - it's been too long. (That sounds sarcastic - it's not, honest.)

patroclus said...

As luck would have it, I retired to bed last night with a copy of Dr Richard Cox's The Ogam Inscriptions of Scotland, and I shall prepare my devastating rebuttal of his theory* forthwith.

* His theory being: 'some of these inscriptions look like they're written in a kind of old Norse language'. My rebuttal goes: 'and some of them don't'. Bet you can't wait.

rockmother said...

I looked at Twitter and I sort of got it but didn't and had the fear that if I signed up

(a) everybody would ignore me
(b) I didn't really get it
(c) blogging is enough and if I liked Twitter then I might leave blogging behind like I've almost left Flickr behind (which I miss)
(d) I couldn't really see the point of letting people know "I'm just going for a wee'

I like the analogies of text message and fun-size blogging - excellent!

Basically, I think I need more hours in the day to Twitter as well as blog/comment/e mail/text/i chat/explode!

rockmother said...

Oh shit - I joined Twitter.