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I have actually been threatened to have a Twitter account against my will. My friends devised a plan to redirect all my FaceBook and whatever activity into Twitter so that i would finally be part of the revolution even if i keep on denying it to be a revolution at all.

I have never come in contact with my own Twitter feed, but depending on the way you look at it, that might be the best evidence that it already exists, somewhere.

Even then, i disagree. Twitter is not a revolution.

It will not come to pass, and all my friends who are wasting their time there will keep on doing it indefinitely. In other words, Twitter is a success. But that does not make it any less stupid.

Some many months ago David Bamman @LanguageLog described how it took a long time for him to understand Twitter. His take was that Twitter is essentially natural or colloquial language. Now, of all things, after watching a video about a Twitter client (called LazyScope) i guess i had my own moment of comprehension and i will venture a very different view.

What LazyScope’s creator Ethan Gahng tells us it that the program is not supposed to be just a Twitter client, it is actually meant to fix the real-time web. But WTF is a real-time web?

When you are tweeting, the so-called content flies over the screen. You don’t go after the information, it pretty much gets forced down your throat. Or in less biased terms, the content is being delivered constantly to you without your requesting for it. The web is being pushed instead of fetched.

The curious thing is, way way back in March of 1997 Wired Mag had this issue devoted to Push Media. They told us it was the future of the internet. And we believed it not. Actually, a few years ago Wired itself recanted and listed the Push thing as one of their failed predictions. But if Twitter is the new revolution in communication, then, well, they were right.

Twitter pushes content onto our laps. The twitterlings always scream when they hear this, they tell you that they have actually ordered the content to be delivered, by “subscribing” to each and every one of their channels. But does it make sense to say that FOX does not push its content to me because i have turned the TV to that channel?

Effectively, Twitter works like a TV. LazyScope’s video up there shows it beautifully, with the “items” scrolling down the screen. That is why Twitter is so successful. It is addictive just like TV.

The problem with this argument is that, pretty much, it likens Twitter with SPAM. It is a new streamlined form of our old nemesis the “reply to all” button. Broadcast media. The proverbial “everyone shouting” thing.

It usually is finished with “…and no one listening”, but i do disagree with that. I think people are listening, just as much as people still watch Globo Networks in Brazil. The puzzle is: If we have one side shouting and another listening, how comes it is not communication?

Twitter is like FarmVille. In the sense that it is very good at keeping you engaged, glued to the screen. It is just stimulation, without discourse or ideas. Obviously, the links contain ideas, the content that is being pushed is full of ideas. But the stream itself does not convey those ideas to the people watching.

People tuned to Twitter are not learning, they are just being fed a regular pattern of stimuli.

My guess would be that this all revolves around a failed epistemology: We somehow confused what knowledge and ideas are really about and got into this big mess. Maybe this is pushing too far. But: How can i reconcile my belief that internet (and related tech) does make us think better and the obvious shallowness of twitter?

A long time ago i was admin of a email list, and despite a promising start the thing was rapidly derailing into SPAM. I tried all forms of countering the quality downturn, and although it all failed in the end, one of those tactics had pretty healthy results. I blocked any message that was smaller than 140 characters. (To be fair, it was probably 100, but 140 makes it funnier). Not bigger than, smaller than! And amazingly enough, instead of an incentive to long posts with needless words, this lead to people committing more effort to each post and thus making them less spammy and more interesting.

Thinking is hard. Great tools for thinking do not make it easier. The great tools make it deeper, but never easier. The name of LazyScope is brilliant: It makes it easy for you, you don’t have to engage in thinking, you don’t have to worry about all this information. It is easy. And lazy.

The same brain we use to write Crime and Punishment we use to browse the web. This brain comes equipped with curiosity and tastes that are actually search filters to find what is important information. Those filters can be exploited. That is what makes FarmVille addictive (or Diablo). And the brain is not going anywhere soon, so, yes, Twitter has come to stay. It (or something like it) will keep on being a huge success. But it is not important. It is just a time sink. And it most definitely is not a revolution.

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2 Comments

  1. To be truth, I believe this is one of your poorest texts, not because of its main idea (Twitter isn’t a revolution), but due poor arguments and weak sensibility to details. I, myself, am not convinced about how revolutionary Twitter is, but I strongly disagree the overview you wrote here. So, let me explain my point of view of this powerful tool (powerful doesn’t means revolutionary).

    Twitter can be “like TV”, but there are three very important differences that should be noticed. First of all, I believe it is quite complex for anyone to start broadcasting worldwide TV contents, even a pirate/illegal one. You need capturing cameras, broadcasting equipment, etc. In other words, you will need at least expensive stuff and technical knowledge. Even if we consider IPTV, it is not so simple, neither cheap, to start up a TV channel. Twitter is costless, and the only thing you must know is how to write (ok, a lot of Twitter users barely know that, anyway…). These two steps accomplished and you are ready to have a Twitter profile and be followed.

    The second point is that Twitter, when compared to TV, is much more open to communication (one people tweets, the other reply, and so on). You have RT (retweets), replies, DM (direct message). At least three ways to establish a direct communication between you and the person you follow. Considering TV, you can email, post a letter, call, or tweet to try to be listened. But TV is not designed for interaction (you need other services to contact someone from TV), while Twitter surely is. There’s an additional point here: Twitters is kind of public. If you call, nobody nows you’re calling. If you email, nobody knows you’re emailing… But if you tweet, everybody (that follows you, at least) knows you’re trying to get in touch with someone and – here is the best part – there is a kind of “social pressure” (or “social reprobation”) if the other sides didn’t give you a feedback.

    Finally, even if Twitter can be as addictive as TV, they are addictive for different reasons. I agree that they are addictive because they are easy and designed for laziness: you just sit in front of you TV as, following your friends tweets, you don’t have to spend a lot of time reading long texts, watching extremely long 10 minutes videos on YouTube, etc. But Twitter is full customized: you choose whom to follow, when to read (there is no long unread badges disturbing you like Google Reader), what subjects (hashtags) to follow, etc. All of it in a quick way: 140 characters posts. It is the fastest way to know what is going on (“what is going” on is different than “how it is going on”, “why it is going on”, etc.). But, the point is that Twitter is designed for laziness as TV, but it is much more customized: in one hand, anyone can crate and maintain a Twitter account to be followed (in economic terms, you maximize the “offer”), in the other hand, you choose watch to see when you open you Twitter page (or your Twitter client). Thus, it isn’t about “everyone shouting things”; it is about filtering these things.

    Hence, Twitter is – different from TV – designed to communication and – as TV – designed to customization and for laziness. Considering the customization, the one enabled by Twitter is very deep when compared to zapping channels, or to picking up your preferred TV packages from you paid TV service provider (and, moreover, anyone can have a Twitter account, while it is not easy to build your own TV channel). Anyway, I believe that the third is the more ambiguous: 140 characters is, of course, a laziness stereotype, but it is not a strictly laziness feature.

    The 140 characters way of communicating enables us to speed up interaction, to have zippy overview about what is going on, to quickly express an opinion and it is an easy way to get in touch with someone. Short messages are extremely useful, even if they can’t handle entire communication processes. Maybe telegram, pagers and SMS were ancestral Twitters. And they were very used, and very useful. Of course none of them are deep like a real conversation, long emails, forums, discussions, blogs, etc. But each communication service has its own role. It was impossible for me to explain you all that via Twitter. But I can notify my followers that I commented here with a brief headline about what I think about this subject. The ones that have any interest in this discussion can click the link and read your post and my comments (a.k.a., leave Twitter flat laziness for a while).

    As I told you, I don’t know how revolutionary Twitter is, but it is not just like TV. Furthermore, it is more social and public than SMS (and others short messages system I mentioned), which means different roles, different usages, etc. It is, in deed, unique (and richer than TV).

  2. Hey, Du, ¿do you know me enough to know? that i hate to say such things like the following phrase:

    Sorry, but you do agree with me, you just haven’t realized it.

    I wasn’t saying that Twitter is TV, i was trying to make a comparison. And that comparison you did fully understand. And you agree with it.

    Twitter is lazy. You said it yourself.

    It isn’t even lazyness, it is passiveness. It is media that you can consume and never ever get tired. In fact, TV is very relaxing.

    I don’t really hate Twitter, like i don’t hate Apple, i hate it that every single Twitter-head that hears me saying so just simply assumes i can only possibly think so because i haven’t used it, and then also that i am completely clueless about how it works.

    Obviously i know Twitter is not TV. Obviously i know Twitter has all kinds of replies. Obviously i know Twitter’s business model is based on personal broadcast. Why must you treat me like an imbecile that can’t see those obvious facts? Also, i am completely sure you wouldn’t say such things to me about almost any other subject at all.

    Trust me, i was reading indepth analises of Twitter much before anyone else i know even heard of the thing. I am a full blown nerd. I know this stuff.

    The very fine point you missed is this: TV is geared towards communication. TV is a mass communication media, actually. Later you correct yourself swapping “communication” with “interaction”, but neither that is true. Consider for example Sílvio Santos, who’s been taking housewifes to his studios for ever. And before big brother every single TV show had some time dedicated to throwing up letters and picking one. The only change is from wholesale to retail.

    In fact, that TV does not have a Orwellian camera inside reduces it’s power of communicating. (That is another very long post i’ve been meaning to write for ever, so i’ll have to leave to you to think about how does this fact relate to Twitter and TV, as i myself have still some to think about the subject).

    I did write a long paragraph about the 140 character limit, but cut it out, because Twitter is not about the 140 char limit. This limit does not matter. This might become clear if you whatch the video i linked, about LazyScope: This program keeps Twitter, it is still Twitter, and it has more than 140 chars. It prefetches everything.

    In fact, i don’t really think my post deserved your long reply. I don’t care about Twitter, and just posted this thing to get rid of a few open tabs with articles i considered good. If you really care about this stuff, maybe you should check the links. Then, for example, explain to me how much different Twitter’s addictiveness is different from FarmVille’s (as shown in the google docs link called “those links can be exploited”).

    The only issue that you touch upon that is really worth some analisys is being on the open, what you call “being sort of public”, but, again, this one is not about Twitter at all. Actually, FaceBook likes to pretend it is the champion of this form of openness, even though it is not — just like Twitter likes to pretend to have invented short messages even though it did not. The real question of “being in the open” is longer, deeper, and very complicated. More than another blog post, at least a series of ‘em, and i will not get to it.

    I didn’t say that Twitter is not a powerful tool. In fact, i called it “huge success” and i said in no ambiguous terms that it has come to stay. My point is a very different one. And it is one in which you agree with me.


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