Friday, April 06, 2007

Why Twitter is about more than telling you what I'm having for lunch

Stowe Boyd points to this article from USA Today’s Andrew Kantor on the subject of Twitter. I’m struck by Kantor’s willful ignorance of what’s at the core of this social presence app:

Twitter is a bad, bad thing — not just because of what it does, but because of what it says about all of us and our need to be connected. Twitter's whole existence is based on the premise that we aren't yet in touch with one another quite enough.

According to Twitter, you see, we should be in touch every second — every moment. This is madness …

What is madness, I think, is Kantor's oversight of the fact that we already are all connected. It is the nature our world in which everything by design is connected to everything else. It is something our ancient ancestors instinctively knew – and instinctively acted upon, in order to live and continue the species. And, as we’ve gained in knowledge of the world that surrounds us, something we’ve sought after always to understand and express.

We’ve always looked for connection

Speech, songs, stories. Written language that begat books, letters. Printing that sparked the spread of ideas via books and newspapers. And with them the migration of people, both outward across the globe and inward to enclaves of villages, towns, cities. Widespread travel, telegraph, telephone, radio, television – a succession of means for making sense of our center, our connectedness. And then the internet, cellular phones, wireless communication – technology-enabled means for understanding the connections that are.

Don’t you see it? We don't impact the flow that is the universe. These all are just our own small means for tapping it, trying to understand it, living in what already is and always has been.

I’ve been watching a lot of old movies lately – those made in the 30s, 40s and 50s where making a long-distance call was worth a raised eyebrow, a second thought, even among those with means. Even I remember when long distance was reserved for Grandma, and only on a Sunday, when the rates were cheaper, and you hadn’t just seen her the weekend before.

But what is long distance today? A rarer and rarer consideration as I call my friend who is 600 miles away at any time of the day or night. And I fully expect that soon it won’t matter if I’m using “anytime minutes” or not. It certainly shouldn’t. It’s a primitive, holdover construct from what’s fast becoming history.

These are the people we live with

Critics of connection enablers like Twitter seem short-sighted to me. Twitter is just one in a succession of acknowledgements of the connectedness of the universe and everything in it. Of the flow that creates and sustains us all. A claiming of our own existence within that flow.

Overblown? Maybe, with regard to Twitter per se. But just ask yourself: What can you learn and know of the world and your fellow humans from even a short time spent with Twittervision (see how it’s evolving already)? That someone has too many choices for lunch (which is some kind of learning in itself)? Sure. But you can also see there’s an ice storm raging in Northern Europe. That it’s tomorrow in Australia. That someone in Italy, right now, is listening to an American rock song. That many many people speak in languages you don’t understand. That there is life beyond your street that you’ve otherwise had little glimpse of before now, that it’s always been there and it continues, whether you’re asleep, awake, indifferent.

These are the people we live with on this earth, and what they do and think and feel has effects beyond you, and vice versa. Yes, these are early adopters, yes they’re technology-enabled themselves, while most of the world isn’t yet. But the implications are further reaching than we can probably imagine right now. And it’s only the smallest beginning.

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Blogger Nirmal said...

i don't use twitter but i certainly see the appeal.

1:56 PM  

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