what is twitter?
an email from my father:
I think with much of this, the question is, “what investment are you willing to make in getting started?” When I say getting started, I mean the initial investment of time in understanding the technology or the platform, be it the internet, as basic as that is, or I Pod, a step up, or FaceBook, Twitter, etc. Breaking it down by generation or experience, Nana, for instance, has done a wonderful job, though invested a lot, in getting to use the internet. She grew up after all in the 30’s and 40’s.That was simple for Mom and me, but investing time in I Pod and the social networks, like Facebook, has been more challenging. What will you struggle with in the years ahead? We tend to bring our previous world experience into the new world and, while enhanced and broadened by the new world, be limited by what we bring. Twitter represents not just Twitter, but the rapidity of diversification and expansion of different information-exchanging worlds.
There is a real challenge for those who see value in learning from the old worlds, in current terms the paper and book, literature, slow-thought, slow-relationship worlds. These worlds hold no candle, it would seem, to the common sense, why-not digital present world and all the access, all the contact, all the instantaneous exchange. Even this commentary is far too slow, far too analytical. But history is essential to understanding the future. Culture is more than information exchange.
What will it be like in 25 years? What will this generation try to hold on to and why in the face of inexorable technological progress?
I regret not adapting faster and try frequently to have it otherwise, but I don’t regret trying to blend the best of all the worlds.
my email back to my father:
there’s no question that i’m an early adopter, and that by that very nature i’m surrounded by early adopters, so i realize at times the barrier to entry can look different from my perspective. i will offer that am not that young, especially in this technological age; i grew up on books that were made out of trees, believe it or not.
my first cell-phone was mine in college, and beyond AOL chat i can’t remember any real digital interaction until it became more necessary in college (being in california and all), and then almost entirely through email.
now, all that said, i think the explosion of social networks is a survival of the fittest environment, with a very pure intention at heart: usefulness. nothing will expand beyond early adopters unless it provides value to every day life, and that list is very short. it also affords plenty of attention to slow, considered analysis and commentary. there’s even a movement towards ‘slow-blogging’.
what’s interesting about twitter is not that it’s like a digital bar scene, but that it’s both a “place” and a “tool” at the same time. because it is both a stream of thoughts, observations, links, and conversations as well as a constantly evolving body of searchable and organizable information. the “constant access and interconnectivity” isn’t about just shoving crap around the internet, and it’s definitely not about making sure that you’re always plugged in…it’s about a conversation you can go to if you need or want it.
even myspace and facebook provide no real value to their members beyond communication (easy and readily available elsewhere) and a way to track the happenings of the people in your network. most people are pretty indifferent about their experience on either network, and both in my opinion have a diminishing value as people age.
linkedin, on the other hand, provides both individuals and businesses with a forum for professional interaction. its value increases with the age of its members, and it redefines the professional playground…playing nice in that environment is a two-way street, and managing a company’s reputation matters as much as managing a personal reputation.
the digital threshold these days is certainly an adjustment to a slower way of operation, but what i think is encouraging is that the truly valuable developments are valuable because first; they’re easy to understand and master, and second; they allow humans to make use of them in a way that enhances the way they already interact with their world. slow is fine. integrity can be maintained. literature and history and culture can be promoted, experienced, and shared.
some examples i think offer real value:
google: a ready-access library; information organization
blogging: a platform to publish with little overhead; journalism and analysis redefined
twitter: a tool for “the stream”; find, organize, participate, analyze, group, survey and spy on the conversation and flow of information
skype: (admittedly a little ‘early adopter’ at this point) physical communication anywhere; no cost, no distance too far, real time
the first three have mobile applications, which is the sleeping dragon in this conversation because it becomes less about the computer and more about the function.
in short, i think my degree in human-computer interaction has always kept me rooted in how intuitive things are, be they technological or otherwise. i get as upset at misleading road signs as i do at difficulties on the computer.
to that end i would conclude this insanely long diatribe with this: the tools that survive and reach a critical mass and needle their way in the communal ether are the ones that add value and do so without major disruption due to usability.
note: i left the ipod out of this because it’s just a box that stores music. 🙂