February 17, 2009

Another Look at Twitter: It's Where Things Happen

Last week, Tech Desk staffer Barry Hyland blogged about some [negative] social implications of Twitter, the microblog site which is all the latest Internet rage.

He cited Yves Smith, who wrote that "Twitter feeds that... false sense of urgency. Most things can wait. Indeed, a lot of things are better off waiting. But we are encouraged to be plugged in, overstimulated all the time, at the expense of higher quality human relations."

Now, another -- more positive -- point of view from TechCrunch, in
Why We Often Write About Twitter And Will Continue To Do So:
"Twitter has grown into far more than just a messaging or status updating service, and anyone who really uses it or develops for it knows that. It’s where news gets broken and what more and more celebrities openly turn to to start getting social with the community... It’s a place where companies can do business while people can choose to engage only with their peers instead. It triggers and support the organization of worldwide charity events...

Basically, it’s as social as social networking services can get."


Barry said...

I wouldn't characterize Smith's comments as negative. Being cautious and considered isn't a bad thing. He simply observed the obvious: What's the rush? Is being connected 24/7 really necessary for most people? Or is this just more isn't-this-so-cool-we-can-do-this stuff? An interesting question to me would be why is breaking news so important RIGHT THIS SECOND? Has the 24-hour newscycle improved our political discourse and policy-making? I think the opposite. It's as if the technology is driving the demand for instantaneous response when a thoughtful, well-considered response is often called for. Concerng the news, do we really lose something if we don't know it until tomorrow morning's newspaper? One could easily argue that we actually gain something, like perspective, by not knowing instantly. Unless a meteor is about to strike the planet, I don't need to know that bad. Of course, if a large meteor is about to strike the planet maybe I don't want to know about it at all. ;-)

I think Smith, who recognized the value of this technology, was highlighting the irony of these tools in that they connect us electronically in amazing ways and Twitter has proven to fill an important business and marketing niche. I applaud that. But they also disconnect us from the immediate society around us. Maybe for those already disconnected socially this is a good thing. But I would argue it's not a better thing.

What really strikes me as fascinating about this technology is this: Isn't this just a much improved version of the telegraph? Hmm.

Phillip Kwik said...

I disagree that new technology has "disconnect[ed] us from the immediate society around us."

The phenomena of disconnectedness has been happening for... well, for most of the last half of the 20th century. Check out Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (c2000), by Robert Putnam (http://www.bowlingalone.com/).

If anything, today's social networking technology has made the world smaller and has brought people together. Maybe not on the front stoop or around the telegraph, as in the 1880s, but together, nevertheless.

Barry said...

Yes, I agree that technology has been separating us for a long time. And of course the front stoop is what I mean by "immediate" society. People who ignore the people right in front of, or next to them in the case of the Tech Ctr (or the bus), while yapping away on the cell phone or texting incessantly to some distant person (maybe while driving), ignoring the intrusion they are presuming upon others (if not danger) is not what I would call "together" or social.

Words matter, as you would agree, and the more I think about it, the more I dislike the term "social network". It's clearly a network, clearly communicating (one dimensionally mostly - at the moment anyway), but it's not social. My friends are my friends because I choose them, interact with them, and communicate with them multidimensionally, not because I filter them through a "friends" list and pretend I know them because I read their profiles. Virtual social networks are just virtual networks, no less, no more.