Friday, August 21, 2009

Twitter: "pointless babble" or peripheral awareness social grooming? or not a "media" as commonly understood?

Since my day job is nurturing my IRA and I love a good argument, I've been spending most of time blogging at the Print industry over at ToughLoveForXerox. Recently I started playing with twitter as ToughLoveforX. Not surprisingly, that leaves very little bandwidth for more theoretical discussions about how print fits into the communication ecology.

Luckily, as most things happen in the world, I got a follower request, checked out who else they were following and got to a rigourous discussion about the nature of media. If you are interested, it is worth the click. Over 35 responses as of this morning.

The blog in question is hosted by
danah boyd and I'm a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. I received my PhD from the School of Information at UC-Berkeley. I live in Boston, MA. Buzzwords in my world include: public/private, identity, context, youth culture, social network sites, social media. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.
At any rate, here's my "contribution" to the discussion.
"Perhaps a good way to clarify what is going on with Twitter is to consider that it does not work as a 'media' in any conventionally defined sense. It might better be framed as technology assisted social communication.

That puts it into the same thought bin as the agora, the 15th century coffee shop, the Royal Academy in the 18th century and the madrassa and high school of today. While there are many emergent 'purposes' of twitter, they are the result of the interactions.

I think I've found that communicating is much easier without the implicit stress of requiring a reply. Adrian said "Doesn't much this babble fall into what Goffman called "civil inattention." I think "civil inattention" implies "no reply necessary." Once that implicit stress is removed, it removes friction from the exchange. As Twitter time shifts conversations it removes the time constraint. As the internet makes space irrelevent, it removes the space constraint. What is left is what people do in the absence of time/space constraints, under conditions of low proximate stress.

As for it being mostly babble, as has been said above most of human conversation is babble, until it's interesting-to-me. It's similar to the problem in physics of non-locality and electrons that are in two places at once, until you look. If look = measure = interesting-to-me, I think the metaphor holds.

Since I blog to and about the printing industry it shouldn't be surprising that I see the world through a Print centered lens. But, I think the elimination of the implicit requirement of a response, helps explain why books reinvented science. It's also the underlying notion that makes me think that new technologies in print will do that again in the service of education.

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