Well, i’ve been using twittr for a few decads now, and despite all the propaganda everyone else sent my way, it’s been very boring. No, twittr has not revolutionized my communication. No, twittr has not completely changed how i talk to the world. No, twittr didn’t help me reach thousands and millions of new readers and friends and professional contacts. Tell the truth, twittr was almost useless.
Of course, you always learn, and weirdly enough my experience with twittr kicked me into seeing a new angle, connecting some dots, at what had previously been one of the most puzzling issues i had with media: Why does TV suck so much?
For, you know, as a medium TV should be able to convey both good and bad content. But that is not how things turn out: Everything on TV sucks big.
tl;dr: Both in twittr and in television everyone is shouting (show-thing), and when everyone shouts you can’t talk.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the weirdo who invented a thing called browser, recently asked out loud for twittrers to “stop foaming at their mouths”. His point is that there is a lot of communication going through this channel and it is overwhelmingly bad. But the real very important very subtle point is: It is a good kind of bad, which is a very very bad kind of good. What goes on on twittr is attention-grabbing, it is interesting, it does amuse, it makes you want to hear more.
The bad side of this is that the attention-grabbing environment leads to a competition for attention. If your most amusing tweets generate good feedback, you will tend to make your next tweets more amusing, which is just a little different from good. If you accelerate the interaction, like for example diminishing the character-size of posts, you push up this difference between amusing VS good. That is: You make attention-grabbing and attention-deserving more and more different.
A very attention-grabbing utterance (tweet, phrase, TV-show…) is like a shout. Volume up, complexity down. The key here is complexity down. This is so not only because you can’t shout too long without a sore throat, after all with loudspeakers you can. The complexity goes down when shouting because shouting requires contrast, and complexity requires nuanced use of the frequency. The more you shout, the more you lose your nuances.
TV is so damn attention-grabbing because it has so much movement with so little eye movement. Our brains are wired that way. We pretty much can’t choose not to be amused by it. And exactly this apparent quality is the damnation of it. Because the attention-grabbing leads to shouting. And thus goes away all the nuance.
And that is pretty much it. This tendency, this process, it basically explains 74.68% of all the contemporary media issues.
Of course tweetrs don’t feel like they are shouting, like they are competing for attention, and they certainly don’t feel like they are conducting a disciplined campaign against nuance. Most of the time they will feel the exact opposite, that they are striving to convey meaning and complexity through their narrow channels. I am pretty much sure they are trying to. That is exactly why tweets are attention-grabbing. And then we are back at the process. It is not about what tweetrs want or believe, this is simply a system that is all geared towards shouting. Exactly like you can’t have a learned discussion at a loud disco, you can’t have non-shouting in tweetr, no matter how much you pretend to, and no matter how much pretending to is also another “media strategy”. The circumstances defeat the purpose.
And i do believe culture needs all kinds of communication-systems, both the loud-shouting ones and the silent-complex ones. Which is to say i am not against tweetr. But it extremely important to understand that shouting is vulnerable to manipulation to a much greater extent than “normal” communication. Just one example: bots went undetected in tweetr “communities” — meant just to show how easy loud is to manipulate, but the real problem is actually the subtle manipulation…
Again: The louder you get, the easier you are to manipulate. But tweetrs generally believe exactly the opposite!
I always thought TV could be used for the good, that there was absolutely no reason why you couldn’t make good as much as bad TV shows. Now i see that is not really a question of good VS bad content, but actually an issue of the “volume” of TV, of how much it pulls your attention, and that this volume is more a damnation than a boon, certainly something that can be used, but not something that pushes quality up.
This, of course, is an open question. And i see the same issues, for example, in the diminishing capacity of online forums to generate any discussion or the struggle to keep small online communities “good” after they grow.