Friday, March 06, 2009

Regarding the Trouble with Twitters

I recently responded to an article written by Jim Todhunter over at Innovating To Win regarding the nature of Twitter. The original article and comments can be found here.

With the ever changing face of networked technology, more and more options for interactive communication materialize almost daily. Yet everything new is old again. Human failings have driven us to find ways of stimulating our social pleasure centers since we caught the first gaze of ourselves in the water.

Here was my response to Jim's thoughtful piece:

Oh the irony of ironies.

Your (well thought-out) musings on 140 characters is akin to Shakespeare writing a sonnet about a garment's washing-instructions tag. You and others are looking to find the hidden value in this medium that has gripped the world, and some might say was instrumental in putting a junior marketing executive into the Oval Office.

I hate to say it, but the only disruptive value of Twitter is one of hyper-leveraging basic human flaws - laziness, banality, and narcissism.

I also hate to say it, but I've seen it all play out before, over 20 years ago.

In the last days of an ancient contraption called the ARPANet, when bits traveled uphill (both ways) to get to their intended time wasters, and Spam was still potentially nutritious, dozens of people on closed networks were familiar with an application called "Oneline" that was very similar to Twitter, except we only had 80 characters to express our most in-depth thoughts, and we could only make one post per day. The behaviours I observed then are all too familiar in today's Twitterati.

People want to feel like they have control of their environment, no matter how trivial. People also have an amazing capability to lose all sense of time management when an opportunity to engage their pleasure centers is presented. Twitter offers people a way for people to become fortune-cookie publishers in any conceivable location, at any moment. A person can push a button and feel good that they have sent their bit of e-wit into the ether, for the benefit of society. We even have metrics provided for us that shows how we rank as important members of society, and how to improve ourselves (just look at Twitalyzer, Twitter Friends, and other tools that emerge almost daily). You and I, Jim, are ranked as "emerging personalities" by Twitalyzer (yes, I looked).

Twitter succeeds because it is a game, and games are important to the human psyche.

Twitter and other social media platforms that provide free outlets for would-be Shakespeares, are not developed for the users. They are developed for marketing and advertising concerns. We are the endless supply free that powers their machines. While we certainly take benefits from the experience (at least our pleasure centers tell us so), the disruption is not in how we benefit and how we work, but in how we are used.

Still, The Trouble with Twitters is not a problem to be solved.

Certainly I can't see the whole kitten-kaboodle being whisked away - there'd be no Twitter at all.

(I should tweet that.)

In the interest of transparent hypocrisy, you can follow me on Twitter either through the Twitter panel on the right side of my blog, or directly on Twitter.


Ellen Domb said...

laziness, banality, and narcissism.

Right on, Jim! I have yet to figure out why anybody should care about my location, my lunch, or my passing thoughts, and I'm enough of a traditional writer to ADMIT that when I edit things they get better. (Was it Mark Twain or WInston Churchill who said that he wrote a long speech because he didn't have time to do a short one?) All of which means I'm just the wrong generation for tweeting. And I agree, it is not a problem to be fixed; it is a social phenomenon to be observed. Our parents didn't understand the Beatles or the Stones, and their parents didn't understand Sinatra, ...Remember when a household had one phone? Getting a "kids' phone" was a really big decision, and seemed to cross some divide between the phone for business/serious family matters and the phone for gossip and "tweeting." Hmmmmmmm...

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with the original author regarding his analysis.
The favorite past time of bloggers these days seems to be in guessing what Twitter's business model should be like or its impending doom.
FB recently rolled out its competing real time updates and it is just plain horrible in my opinion.
I don't want to sound like a twitter snob when I point out the low follower number of the author's, but I don't see how he can talk about its problems when he himself is a beginner in twitter.

Senthil said...

I just realized, I didn't make clear who I was referring to in my post. I mean the original author, not you Jim. I agree with what you said!